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Industrial Leadership Conference on Sustainable Sourcing of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants
Industrial Leadership Conference on Sustainable Sourcing of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants

The second annual Symposium on Industrial Leadership for the Preservation of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) took place in Philadelphia on October 14-15, 2003. The 2003 conference, titled Sustainable Sourcing–Environmental, Social, and Business Benefits , was organized by the Medicinal Plant Working Group (MPWG—see sidebar) and attended by more than 100 people from academia, industry, government, and tribal nations.

The seed for this Symposium was sown in 2002, when members of the MPWG (including the Native American Elder’s Circle—see sidebar) collaborated with the botanicals industry (including Aveda Corp. and the American Herbal Products Association [AHPA]) to focus on the industry’s role in the sustainable use and conservation of MAPs used in botanically-based product lines. The 2002 Symposium concluded with a five-point consensus amongst the more than 175 attendees (see Table 1).1

Table 1: Consensus Goals of MPWG from 2003 and 2004 Conferences
• We endorse the Plant Conservation Alliance (PCA), and the Plant Conservation Alliance-Medicinal Plants Working Group (PCA-MPWG) and its Mission.
• We acknowledge that we are all stakeholders in the preservation of plants.
• We recognize that we need guidance from our indigenous elders.
• We intend a more formal structure for industry participation in PCA and PCA-MPWG.
• We will hold another Industrial Leadership meeting in about one year to access our progress towards formalizing a structure.
• We intend to work collaboratively to implement sustainability standards.



The 2003 Symposium built upon that consensus to focus on the MAPs supply chain more closely. The five-fold objectives of the symposium were to:

1.Understand supply and demand issues facing the MAP industry;
2.Address environmental, social, and commercial benefits to sustainable sourcing;
3.Examine the MAPs supply chain for constraints on and opportunities for sustainable sourcing;
4.Identify existing models for sustainable use of MAPs in industry; and
5.Chart a path for addressing MAPs sustainability and conservation on an industry-wide basis, including the role of the MPWG in that effort.

The Symposium featured different panels illustrating various aspects of the medicinal plant supply chain. Speakers were invited to discuss their inspirations and visions in the challenge of sustainable sourcing. Speakers and audience members included growers of MAPs, collectors of wildcrafted plants, importers/exporters, processors, manufacturers hailing from federal and non-federal, academia and industry, and indigenous and non-indigenous leaders. This diverse assemblage is a testament to the diverse role that medicinal plants play in society today.

The conference opened with an invocation led by Leon Secatero, Canoncito Navaho elder, and Dr. Richard Walley who holds an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Murdoch University in Western Australia and is a member of Australia’s Council of the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Board. The juxtaposition of Navaho spiritual singing with an Aboriginal didgeridoo performance demonstrated the unifying theme that the Elders wished to convey. In Secatero’s words, “This is not a red man, not a yellow man, not a black man, not a white man, but a five-fingered one…. If you have five fingers, then this is your journey….”

The Conference evoked two main messages. First, that the industry can set the proper example. Dominique Conseil, president of Aveda, the primary underwriter of the conference, urged members of industry to match words with actions. “Listen to our grandmothers…seek connections…think holistic…we must stop competing and work together.” Conseil, who may be the only major corporate CEO in America with a background in anthropology, explained that it may not be easy to make changes, but there is nothing to do but try. David Hircock, medical herbalist and advisor to Aveda’s president, spoke of the need for industry and governments to become more responsible. “We have to deliver quality at both ends of the chain, to follow the chain of custody to the primary producer to ensure a sustainable future for the farmers and wildcrafters and the environment in which they live.”

The second message from the Conference was to honor the Elder’s perspective on the state of MAPs. Secatero’s sentiment that, “We must make it like it was before we were here, so we can pass it on to the next generation,” was echoed by other members of the Elder’s Circle. Susan Burdick, representing the Yurok/Karuk tribe from the northwest, pointed out that heart connections must be present in order to do the necessary work, saying, “Look at why you’re here.…What is important?…I see too much greed…think about tomorrow....” Tis Mal Crow, a United Lumbee/Hitchiti and a root doctor from the Midwest, addressed the group with another powerful message about the responsibility to teach the children. Jane Dumas, a Kumeyaay elder, shared a beautiful blessing for those who will walk this path together. Dr. Richard Walley endorsed the idea of Indigenous certification, which would honor and respect indigenous intellectual property rights. Ray Couch, Cherokee of the Appalachians, encouraged attendees to acknowledge the responsibility to heal Mother Earth and to undertake the sacred duty for generations to come.

Beth Lambert, CEO of Herbalist & Alchemist and President of Blueberry Health, both New Jersey-based, and Bill Popin of Young Living Essential Oils of Utah, described their companies’ actions to follow through with quality issues. Lambert highlighted the perspective that because of a lack of trust, too much money is being spent on chemical testing of supplier materials. There is a need for reliability in the contracts for consistent sourcing. Popin said that since 1993, Young Living Essential Oils has invested, and taken responsibility for the cultivation, distillation, manufacturing, and distribution of essential oils in order to create transparency in its supply chain.

Josef Brinckmann, Vice President of Research and Development of Traditional Medicinals Inc. and Consultant on Market Intelligence for Medicinal Plants & Extracts, International Trade Centre (ITC), UNCTAD (Geneva, Switzerland), delivered perhaps the most articulate and poignant presentation at the conference. He reminded everyone that social sustainability is a prerequisite for environmental sustainability. There is a need for sustainable development that focuses on improving the standard of living for all people involved in the supply chain by assuring fair trade and fair compensation principles. He posed serious questions that must be addressed, such as, “How can we move consumers of medicinal herbal products [who live] in the developed countries to better understand the value of the important work [done by developing countries] in order to significantly increase consumer-driven demand for sustainably-sourced botanicals?” Brinkmann challenged this question by pointing out the existing convoluted variables in product certifications on the market. In the quest to create organic and fair trade standards, “…can the mere exporting of crude botanical raw materials from developing countries to the developed countries for value-added processing and re-export ever be categorized as fair-trade?”

Brinckmann is involved in researching chain-of-supply transparencies and providing up-to-date market information and technical support to herb producers in the least developed and developing countries. (Market News Service for Medicinal Plants & Extracts: medplants.php). Intrinsic to the goals of these projects is the creation of incentives for sustainable practices. This work is an effort to break down some of the existing market access barriers. Brinkmann summed up his lecture by stating: “…the endless quest of product [producing] companies to apply downward pressure on their cost of goods runs counter to the goal of sustainable sourcing. We need another model, but it must make economic sense. In a sustainable trade, buyers should not be rewarded for ‘price-buying’ their ingredients. On the contrary, they should be rewarded for ‘quality-buying’ and for establishing long-term benefit sharing relationships with their sources….We will know we are closer to the goal of a sustainable natural products industry when the small family tenant farm or wildcrafting cooperative is making a living wage, and its members have food security and access to affordable healthcare and education...” [Editor’s note: Mr. Brinckmann’s presentation is being published in a future issue of HerbalGram .] Industry’s clear commitment, not only to the plant communities, but also to human communities, was a recurrent theme throughout the conference. As Mark Blumenthal, Chairman of the Conference and Founder and Executive Director of the American Botanical Council, stated, “Sustainability is not just conservation of habitat, but conservation and quality of life for all people in the value chain.” This notion was woven in and out of discussion throughout the two days, highlighted by the work that has been done to honor and preserve both the environment and culture.

Members of MPWG reported on the various projects that focus on the monitoring and preservation of plants used within the industry. MPWG encourages elders and holders of traditional ecological knowledge to participate in the studies, and it generates financial support for such projects. Various presenters offered insights into the different working departments of MPWG, reviewing the group’s commitments, advancements, and challenges. These presenters included Patricia De Angelis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and chair of the MWPG; Trish Flaster CEO and President of Botanical Liaisons, an ethnobotanical consulting firm; Ed Fletcher, COO of Strategic Sourcing Inc.; and Michael McGuffin, president of AHPA.

A special guest at the symposium was Marcos Terena from the Terena Tribe in Brazil and the Brazilian Institute for Intellectual Property Rights. Terena was the only indigenous person to speak at the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. During the First World Conference of Indigenous People, held in the jungles of Brazil one week prior to the earth Summit and attended by 1000 Tribal leaders, Terena was selected by 92 Native Nations to be their only voice at the U.N. Earth Summit. His presence represents a forgiving father with constructive advice. Terena is able to convey explicitly the implications of industry on indigenous culture and the environment. Remembering a time when plants were abundant and available in the forest of his home in the Amazon, Terena lamented the disappearance of his traditional medicines. He spoke with authority on intellectual property rights, stating that ideas do have owners. “Within ten minutes, or a day, or a week, or a month, scientists can take indigenous knowledge. They tell us that they are doing this in the name of science and the good of mankind. So indigenous people tell them “Okay, we’ll help you so that you can do well.” Unfortunately, this respect is not reciprocal. “We indigenous people will reach out to white people, not to be like them, but to work with them to create a better future.”

Representing the commercial farms and small stakeholders were Dr. Akash Chopra of Biosys Group in the U.K., Jeannie DeArmond of Great Plains Medicinal Herb Growers Association (, Colin Donahue of Rural Action Forestry Network, Peter Furth of FFF Associates Inc., and Ed Smith of Herb Pharm, a manufacturer of medicinal products in Williams, Oregon. This panel was ideally shaped to illuminate international and domestic perspectives. These panelists briefly showcased how their work increases the value of cultivated plant materials both domestically and internationally. Chopra, world renowned specialist in this area, clarified the broad range of difficulties faced by industry and conservation groups by stating that underdeveloped countries have one thing available, the land; the challenge is how to prudently distribute wealth in a fair and equitable manner.

The wildcrafting panel began with a powerful presentation by Dr. James Chamberlain III of the USDA Forest Service. Drawing on his acuity, he pointed out that collectors are often wary of outside intervention; MAPs are not addressed in forest management programs; there is a lack of knowledge of biology and ecology among many collectors; market knowledge is also lacking; and that there are many problems in the supply chain. He addressed these challenges, suggesting that trust needs to be built to foster collaboration between stakeholders. He also endorsed a change in policies to encourage conservation and management. Tony Hayes, President of Ridge Runner Trading Company in Boone, North Carolina, related an experience regarding the profile of the U.S. buyer/seller. Bhishma Subedi, Executive Director of the Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources, discussed issues about wildcrafting in Nepal. Nepal is a biodiversity hotspot, with trade generating $26 million USD. According to Subedi, 96% of raw materials are wildcrafted by the poorest of the poor in remote mountain areas where there is little or no alternative for making money. Due to the fact that these plant materials move through so many hands and provide so little income, there is little incentive for conservation. He also reported on the current transition from government forests and free-for-all conditions to Community Forestry, meaning that 60% of total forest land is for community forestry. Subedi ended by relating that these emerging community-based forest enterprises need partnerships in order to ensure success.

The symposium featured a panel on conservation strategies, facilitated by Trish Flaster. Panel members outlined domestic and international initiatives geared towards sustainable measures. Representing domestic efforts were Lynda LeMole, Executive Director of United Plant Savers (; Rod Sallee of the USDA Forest Service; and Kathryn Kennedy, PhD of the Center for Plant Conservation ( Kennedy stated that 5% of U.S. flora is listed or qualifies for listing as endangered or threatened plants under the terms of the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunate futures threaten the plants that are listed: 65% of listed species have fewer than 10 populations remaining, 49% have fewer than 5 population/sites remaining, and 74% have fewer than 100 individuals in a majority of the sites. The National Collection is the only coordinated nationwide effort to place seeds in seed banks for plants that are imperiled. Speaking to an international scope of endeavors, Roddy Gabel, Chief of the Division of Scientific Authority at USFW, talked about CITES (Convention in Trade in Endangered Species, aka the Washington Treaty, cites.html), which deals with international trade and is relevant to 163 parties/countries. Theresa Prendusi of the USDA Forest Service discussed the Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Project in Albania. Albania represents 30% of European flora; among its 320 plants, 30 species are endemic; 10% are rare, threatened, or endangered; and 4 are extinct. Prendusi emphasized that it has become important to create systems of education to maximize conservation efforts.

Although it may seem daunting to leave a symposium with more questions than answers, that may be the very mark of success on the subject of conservation. Attendees of the symposium left with information relayed from industry members, as well as solid and specific advice provided in the sustainability tool kits. A compendium of resources was circulated to give all members a starting point to access resources that do significant work in sustainability. Perhaps most importantly, the symposium reiterated the five goals set the year before and added a sixth goal: “We intend to work collaboratively to implement sustainability standards.” (Table 1). These goals create a consensus agreement that unifies all levels of industry in the quest to participate in the simple and yet complicated task of moving forward together into the next 500 years of sustainability. Now more than ever, members of the industry must reconcile on what issues are at hand, what steps can be taken, and what obstacles stand in the way.

Tasha Goldberg is an herbalist and an ethnobotanist. She consults and lectures internationally on sustainable sourcing. Tasha is a member of the Earth Stewardship Circle, a group of indigenous elders, conservationists, and business leaders, who are working towards a vision of global sustainability.


1. Hircock D. Industry takes the lead in the conservation of U.S. botanicals. HerbalGram 2003: 56:60.