Plant Conservation Alliance - Medicinal Plant Working Group's
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Plant Conservation Alliance
Medicinal Plant Working Group

Evolving Strategy

Recognizing that commercial demands may cause overharvesting from the wild, the Medicinal Plants Working Group, which includes representatives from industry, government, academia, Tribes, and environmental organizations, aims to create a framework for discussion and action on behalf of medicinal plants.  The group's primary focus is to facilitate action on behalf of species of particular conservation concern as a means to balance biological and commercial needs and, in the long term, minimize regulatory intervention. Within that framework, there may also be a need to provide public education on Tribal interests and policies as these intersect with the conservation of plants. The Working Group intends to raise awareness of native medicinal plant issues and needs among partner agencies and cooperating organizations to:

Generate and Share Information Regarding Species of Medicinal and Economic Importance and Conservation Concern

  • Develop a list of all such plants
  • Assess currently available information as appropriate to the objective
  • Conduct inventory and monitoring of native medicinal plants
  • Quantify and monitor production, consumption, and international trade in selected species
  • Assess the volume, intensity, and ecological impact of harvesting from the wild for selected species
  • Identify additional threats to native medicinal plants
  • Identify native medicinal plants of particular conservation concern by ecoregion
  • Promote research to increase understanding of the reproductive biology and genetic diversity of native medicinal plants
  • Promote awareness of the concerns and policies of tribes and other groups that safeguard traditional knowledge of native medicinal plants as these pertain to confidentiality of information

Promote Appropriate Conservation Measures for Native Medicinal Plants

  • Develop consensus regarding in-situ and ex-situ conservation priorities for native medicinal plants
  • Develop and implement conservation strategies for species of particular concern
  • Incorporate native medicinal plants into land management plans
  • Encourage information sharing regarding selected medicinals to aid decision-makers in making informed decisions
  • Support law enforcement and the development of new methods of law enforcement
  • Work closely with the participation initiative
  • Develop a web page
  • Define methods of sustainably harvesting selected species from the wild
  • Facilitate the articulation and use of a wild-crafting ethic
  • Access current and planned ex-situ conservation activities for native medicinal plants by federal agencies, botanical gardens, Center for Plant Conservation, etc.
  • Compile information on existing state laws or regulations that relate to medicinal plant conservation

Promote Sustainable Production of Native Medicinal Plant Products

  • Promote research of commercial-scale cultivation and propagation of native medicinals, and encourage sustainable alternative cultivation and propagation techniques.
    • develop a short list of endangered, medicinal plants with ongoing traditional and/or alternative cultivation/propagation research, and current high consumer demand (using work started by other organizations, such as United Plant Savers)
    • compile information about the research and production of these plants to be presented via links and other mechanisms on the PCA web site
    • develop a pilot research grant mechanism to encourage alternative production practices that allow natural ecologies to be reclaimed as sources of economic value to communities, and to provide a mechanism for farmers to find sustainable economic alternatives to large monocrops such as tobacco and wheat
  • Identify and promote market-based incentives for consumption of products from sustainable sources.
    • develop a short list of ways in which the organic industry built consensus for their value-added approach to marketing products
    • approach dietary supplement manufacturers, commodity brokers and retailers about how to create added value through sustainable produced bulk medicinal plant material.
    • develop list of individuals/groups interested in promoting sustainable production of medicinals
  • Identify target audiences and partners for information sharing (e.g., farmers and rural development experts)
    • identify potential partners for the creation of a pilot medicinal plant production cooperative (ie, university research facilities, extension agents, growers, manufacturers)
    • identify the inherent hurdles to cooperative information sharing and production: a) what are the incentives that would pull together varied community institutions; b) who are the target audiences that would be interested in these market driven incentives; c) what are the problems that would stop involvement
    • identify community development grants available for a  pilot project

Increase Participation in Native Medicinal Plant Conservation

The number of groups interested in native medicinal plants is growing. Participants ranging from consumers to policy makers, farmers, and school children  that could be brought into the discussion through concerted outreach and education.  The goal is to 1) expand awareness of native medicinal plant needs among those who could assist with their conservation, and 2) ensure that future generations grow into fuller awareness of the value of these plants.

  • Educate policy-makers, consumers, and the general public regarding the conservation status and importance of native medicinal plants to focus attention on this issue and increase its profile.
    • Develop medicinal plant fliers that farmers could distribute to publics visiting their farms
    • Develop stories for the web that demonstrate successful cultivation techniques
    • Centralize a collection of free publications for distribution to interested publics
    • Meet with Master Gardener program, Extension Service, Joint Ventures such as AECS and others to reach farmers and offer models demonstrating the benefits of public
    • Encourage funding
  • Identify, quantify, and publicize trends in the conservation status of native medicinal plants,including cases of unsustainable use, and the benefits of conservation
    • Develop flier for public dessimination that lists what the general public can do to promote medicinal plant conservation
  • Promote policy reforms and alternative consumer behaviors as appropriate
    • Determine how to foster development of a certification program for sustainable use of medicinal plants
    • Seek out partners to support certification program
  • Create a database of experts with knowledge of specific medicinal plant species

Encourage Active Participation by Tribes and Other Holders of Traditional Ecological Knowledge Pertaining to Native Medicinal Plants

Ethnobotany is multi-disciplinary. To discover the practical potential of native plants not only requires knowledge of plants, but an understanding and sensitivity to the dynamics of how cultures work. By observing the intimate and harmonious relationship of indigenous cultures to their environment, their accumulated knowledge of the biodynamics of the natural world, and their traditions of stewardship that sustain fragile ecological balance, scientists, ethnobotanists, and others can gain insight into the management of land reserves, plant communities, and the biodiversity they sustain, so as to help maintain a balanced ecosystem for future generations.  

  • Conserve indigenous plants and plant communities used in traditional medicine, ceremony, ethnobotany, and the natural products industry.
  • Preserve indigenous and immigrant knowledge, culture and biodiversity through education aimed at retaining, reinforcing and revitalizing this knowledge of plants. "Indigenous" pertains to the knowledge of the First Nations, as well as to the knowledge of rural U.S-adopted cultures (e.g. African Americans, Appalachians, Asian and other cultures now living in the U.S.)
    • establish an elder link: this involves inviting elders to participate and set direction for actions
    • establish regional centers as loci for farming and education as these tie into plant communities
    • encourage regional ethnoconference sponsorship that would bring together tribal and non-tribal knowledge on the subject of medicinals
  • Support community sovereignty through the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • Establish medicinal plant centers dedicated to conserving the plants, providing information about their uses, and ensuring a sustainable supply for future extraction, in partnership with the communities.
  • Collaborate with the other efforts under the Medicinal Plant Working Group to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge within studies that focus on sustaining medicinal plants in the wild and in cultivation.
  • Establish an ethnobotanical/ethnomedicinal seed clearinghouse and exchange, working with traditional elders and communities.

Generate Financial Support for Native Medicinal Plant Conservation Projects

The development of reliable, sustainable financial support is the lynchpin upon which the work of the Medicinal Plant Working Group depends.  Without such financing, projects fall back on the time and energy of volunteers for completion, a condition that would make it difficult to fulfill the range of activities critical to the mission of the group.  Funding generated to support projects would be made available for cross-cutting efforts bringing together researchers, educators, businesses and others in support of plant conservation.

  • Identify potential funding sources for coordinated projects
    • Develop a list of organizations providing grants for plant-related projects
    • Identify federal agencies interested in plant conservation
    • Develop an intra-governmental effort outlining the roles and interests of agency members pertaining to medicinal plant conservation; determine availability of funding
    • Develop a packet of information for dissemination to potential donors
    • Meet informally with potential donors to provide information on the importance of medicinal plant conservation
    • Hold a formal donors meeting and develop an action plan out of the meeting
  • Facilitate development and coordination of project proposals
    • Make the funding guidelines of pertinant donor organizations available in a centralized location, possibly via the internet
    • Develop a mechanism to assist with project proposal coordination among working group member organizations
  • Promote the establishment of a conservation trust fund for non-timber forest products, including medicinal plants
    • Survey membership to determine who has financial/legal expertise and could assist with contacts/ideas
    • Outline steps necessary to establish a conservation trust fund for medicinal plants
    • Develop a mechanism to involve lawmakers in a such a discussion
    • Mesh pertinent steps for this goal with steps being taken to increase participation
    • Research possibilities associated with product branding that could designate a percentage of profits to medicinal plant conservation


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Last Updated: 30-May-2006