Plants, from the rare and exotic to the common and back-yard variety, provide us with a multitude of benefits in our every-day lives. Most importantly, all life on earth could not survive without the magnificent variety and diversity of the plant kingdom. Plants provide all sorts of ecosystem services- from coastal storm protection by mangroves, to carbon sequestration by forests, from fibres for clothes and building materials to the food we eat every day. Plants also have a great many cultural significances from the sacred lotus flower revered particularly by Hindus and Buddhists to the fir tree used at Christmas.
Many businesses also use genetic resources as inputs to production. The pharmaceutical industry is a particularly important user of wild genetic resources. Over 400,000 tons of medicinal and aromatic plants are traded worldwide every year; 80% are wild harvested.1 In fact it is estimated that 25-50% of pharmaceutical turnover (total US$ 640 billion) is derived from genetic resources.2 It has been estimated that “of the top 150 prescription drugs used in the U.S., 118 originate from natural sources: 74% from plants, 18% from fungi, 5% from bacteria, and 3% from one vertebrate (snake species).’’3
A key issue is the current access and benefit sharing (ABS) agreements which determine the economic rent of a genetic resource when a company wishes to use this as a commercial product. This is important as many wild genetic resources are located on land owned by poor rural farming or indigenous people; and benefits from genetic resources could play an important role in improving their livelihoods and well as spreading the gains more equitably between developing and developed countries. Current arrangements for sharing the rent do not favour the local communities and it is a key objective of the CBD to ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the utilisation of genetic resources.4
Indigenous populations have long recognised the value of nature’s medicinal properties. For example Devil’s Claw has been used for centuries by people living in the Kalahari as a medicinal plant to treat a wide range of illnesses, from digestive system disorders to infections and sores. One less well-known aspect is that healthcare needs for the world’s poor are mostly met by traditional medicines and treatments extracted from natural sources. They suffer directly from the loss of biodiversity as the cost of ‘formal’ healthcare medicines is often prohibitive.5
In the West, many plants form the core building blocks of the treatments we use to fight a variety of illnesses. For example the Rosy Periwinkle from Madagascar is used by traditional healers in Madagascar but is also a source of anti-cancer drugs used e.g in Europe. In London alone there are an estimated 392 children with Leukemia or lymphoma. In 1970 only 127 of those children could be expected to survive but due to improved treatments using vinblastine and vincristine derived from the Madagascan Rosy Periwinkle, 312 of those children can be expected to live.6
This single species of the Rosy Periwinkle alone has an estimated value of US$ 1, 5777,800.7 Those extra lives: invaluable.
- TEEB for Business, Chapter 5 Page 13 Traffic International (2006) Traffic Bulletin, Vol. 21 No. 1 (July). http://www.teebweb.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=EY1cJCTSe2U%3D&tabid=1021&language=en-US [↩]
- TEEB for National Policy Makers, Chapter 1 page 6, http://www.teebweb.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=Ps6eutErJJI%3d&tabid=1019&language=en-US [↩]
- TEEB Ecological and Economic Foundation, Chapter 2, Page 27 http://www.teebweb.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=VdteUfY8umU%3d&tabid=1018&language=en-US ESA (Ecological Society of America) 2000. Ecosystem Services: A Primer. http://www.actionbioscience.org/environment/esa.html, accessed 1 September 2009. [↩]
- Taken from the TEEB for National Policy Makers Report, Chapter 5, page 34-36 http://www.teebweb.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=vYOqLxi7aOg%3d&tabid=1019&language=en-US [↩]
- TEEB for National Policy Makers, Chapter 1 Page 27 http://www.teebweb.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=Ps6eutErJJI%3d&tabid=1019&language=en-US [↩]
- Taken from the TEEB Interim Report. Balmford, A., Rodigues, A., Walpole, M.,ten Brink,P., Kettunen, M. And Braat, L. (2008) Review on the Economics of Biodiversity loss [↩]
- Ibid [↩]