PCA-Medicinal Plant Working Group 2003 Symposium
Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Industry
Sustainable Sourcing: Environmental, Social and Business Benefits

October 14-15, 2003
Sheraton Rittenhouse Square
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA


Consultant on Market Intelligence for Medicinal Plants & Extracts
International Trade Centre of the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland

Vice President of Research & Development
Traditional Medicinals, Inc., Sebastopol, CA.

For an overview of the medicinal plants supply chain, I will briefly report on some current activities and projects that provide up-to-date market information and technical support to herb producers in least developed- and developing countries:

The focus of these activities is not limited to merely the facilitation of trade development. For BTFP the challenge is to find ways and means to use biodiversity as a basis for sustainable development. The sustainable use of biodiversity supports both development and conservation, and generates tangible economic benefits for those whose livelihoods depend on biodiversity. Moreover, an incentive is created for sustainable practices.

US TRADE: In 2002, the US imported over 200 million kg but exported only about 30.5 million kg of medicinal & aromatic botanical raw materials categorized under various Harmonized System (HS) Codes including HS 0902 (e.g. green tea leaf), 0903 (e.g. maté leaf), 0904.20 (e.g. capsicum fruit), 0909 (e.g. anise fruit, fennel fruit), 0910 (e.g. ginger rhizome, turmeric rhizome), 1210 (e.g. hop strobile) and 1211 (e.g. ginseng root, licorice root, peppermint leaf, psyllium husk, senna leaf), with a total import value of about US $332 million and export value of $135 million. The leading raw material suppliers to the US were China and India, followed by Turkey, Mexico, Spain, Canada, Egypt, and Germany, among many others. The US exports significantly more value-added (e.g. essential oils, extracts, oleoresins) botanical ingredients than crude raw materials. How much of the annual US trade volume is sustainable?

SUSTAINABILITY: In recent years, I have been hearing the same message from growers and collectors of medicinal herbs from Africa to the Balkans to South America. Producers of botanical raw materials in the so-called developing countries are acutely aware that they operate at the very bottom of the value chain and they of course desire greater equity. Many producers do not believe that they receive a fair price. At the same time, the concept of “sustainable development” is now an important topic at nearly every international botanical conference, and some herbal product companies are promoting the concept of “market-driven-conservation”. For the natural products industry to collectively reach a goal of becoming economically-, environmentally- and socially sustainable, industry leaders will need to pay much closer attention to the sources of their health products. Social sustainability (reduction of poverty and inequality) at the producer level is prerequisite to ensuring environmental sustainability. We will know that we are closer to the goal when the small family tenant farm or wildcrafting cooperative is making a living wage, its members have food security and access to affordable healthcare and education.


  1. Can the mere exporting of crude botanical raw materials from developing countries to developed countries for value-added processing and re-export be categorized as fair-trade? Or will the trade become fairer when the technologies and resources necessary for value-adding are established in the raw material’s country-of-origin?
  2. Purchasers are generally rewarded for tight inventory control, minimal out-of-stocks, and coming in under budget. They are not generally rewarded for establishing ventures with producers that could require any over-budget investment in dollars and labor. The return-on-investment can be several years out and there may also be some risk. Is there a way for bottom-line-driven companies to change their behavior and recognize long-term benefits of developing and maintaining sustainable sourcing practices?