Wild plants, a source of many essential products for human consumption, will be in focus during the online FairWild Week campaign as these species are coming under increasing pressure as rising demand poses an ecological and social risk, according to conservation advocates.
Launched in 2017, FairWild Week is an annual online campaign that aims to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable and equitable trade in wild plant ingredients. This year's campaign runs from Monday through Friday under the theme "Why Care about Wild Plants?"
On the occasion of FairWild Week, Emily King, business engagement officer at the FairWild Foundation, and Richard Thomas, head of communications at the wildlife trade watchdog TRAFFIC, spoke to Anadolu Agency (AA) about how wild plants are irreplaceable for natural and human life as well as the importance of sustainable harvesting and trade of wild plants.
Touching on the roles of wild plants on a healthy planet, Thomas stressed that although plants do not get the attention they deserve, they are "immensely important" for the world.
"Ultimately, all animal life on Earth is completely dependent on plants. Even your top carnivore predators – lions, tigers and jaguars – in the final analysis are dependent on plants because that's what their prey species eat," he said.
Thomas went on to say that everything from medicines and foods to cosmetics and health products contains plant ingredients that are wild harvested. However, he highlighted that wild plants are under various threats as thousands of wild plant species are facing risks due to habitat loss and excessive extraction from the wild, including overharvesting.
"This could well lead to an unprecedented run on these plants, which if not well-managed could lead to their significant depletion in the wild, i.e. become a serious conservation concern," he said, referring to a recent report which showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has also negatively affected wild species.
Wild plant species are also under pressure due to their usage to treat COVID-19 and earn income, according to the "Invisible Trade" report published Thursday by TRAFFIC.
"Cultivated plant products – bananas, coffee beans, etcetera – have a well-known certification system known as Fairtrade, which signals that producers are receiving fair prices and operate under decent working conditions," he said, noting that FairWild certification is also key for products harvested from the wild.
That is why, Thomas stressed, TRAFFIC endorses the FairWild Standards and the associated FairWild certification system to ensure fairness and equality in the supply chain for plant products that are harvested sustainably from the wild.
FairWild certification system
The increasing demand for wild plants as ingredients in food, cosmetics, and well-being and medicinal products poses major ecological and social challenges, said King.
King explained that as well as local ecosystems, the livelihoods of collectors who sell the plants for a living are also affected by the pressure on wild plant species as these harvesters mostly belong to the poorest social groups in their countries of origin.
As a response to these concerns, working with partners around the world, the FairWild Foundation aims to improve the sustainable use of wild plants both in trade and wild collection via the FairWild Standard and FairWild certification, she said.
"We manage the FairWild Standard, which is a set of guidelines that ensures the continued use and long-term survival of wild plant species in their habitats ... FairWild certification means that buyers – from ingredient traders up to consumers – know they are dealing with legally, ethically and sustainably harvested products," King noted.
The FairWild Standard also has "strict rules" for adherent suppliers regarding the sustainability of harvesting activities as well as ensuring the harvesters work in safe conditions, she said.
"Wild collected plants meeting the requirements are FairWild certified, and products containing them can bear the FairWild logo," King said.
FairWild Week, which will provide a dialogue opportunity with consumers about wild plants, also aims to urge the incorporation of the FairWild Standard by industry suppliers, she added.
During the week, the foundation and partners will be sharing conservation success stories and demonstrating how the implementation of the FairWild Standard ensures sustainable harvesting and trade in wild plants with social, economic and conservation benefits.
"We will also be engaging the public with exploring the wild ingredients likely to be found in everyone's kitchen/bathroom cupboards to showcase the everyday relevance of wild plants, and we invite everyone to join us in doing the same," King said.