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4th World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature
The 4th World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)* took place October 5-14, 2008, in Spain at the Centre de Convencions Internacional de Barcelona. The central theme of the Congress, “A Diverse and Sustainable World,” was to highlight linkages between natural, social, cultural, and economic diversity. The Congress, held every 4 years, is billed as the world’s largest and most important conservation event that aims to improve management of the natural environment for human, social, and economic development. The Congress drew more than 8,000 specialists from the conservation community, governments, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), academia, the private sector, women’s groups, and indigenous groups.

The 2 main goals of the 4th Congress were to (1) profile innovative conservation research and work throughout the world, and (2) set the global conservation mandate through the IUCN motions process.1

The primary focuses of the Congress included biodiversity-based climate change mitigation, impacts of biodiversity loss, impacts of biofuels projects, rights of vulnerable and indigenous communities in conservation-related activities, and endangered animal species. There were also a few events related to the conservation, sustainable use, and trade of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs).

Awards and Agreements Reached

Danna Leaman, PhD, a founding member of the Medicinal Plant Specialist Group (MPSG) of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) and MPSG chair since 2000, received the “Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership.” The award, which recognizes exemplary service to the SSC, was given in recognition of Dr. Leaman’s “inspirational role in the development of the International Standard for Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ISSC-MAP)2 and for ably assisting in the work of the IUCN SSC Plant Conservation Sub-committee.”

An important agreement was also signed at the Congress between the 4 founding institutions of the ISSC-MAP to endorse global implementation of the standard through the newly established FairWild Foundation. The ISSC-MAP was developed by a partnership including the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), the MPSG, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Germany), and TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network and joint program of IUCN and WWF), plus industry associations, companies, certifiers, and community-based NGOs. Development of the FairWild Standard3 was initiated by Swiss Import Promotion Programme and financed in cooperation with Forum Essenzia e.V. (Society for Promotion, Protection, Dissemination of Aromatherapy, Aromacare and Aromaculture).

“A successful wild plant collection standard is essential to ensure sustainable use of medicinal plants not only for purposes of nature conservation but also in a social and economic context,” said Professor Beate Jessel, president of the BfN. “Germany, as one of the major medicinal plant importers worldwide, has a special responsibility of acting upon such principles.”4 Under the auspices of FairWild Foundation, the ISSC-MAP and the FairWild Standard will be jointly implemented to assure buyers that wild collected botanicals are produced in a socially and ecologically sound manner. The joint implementation of both standards also ensures traceability, transparency, and improves product safety.

The Exhibition

Co-located with the Congress was an exhibition as well as an International Women Environmental Entrepreneurs Fair. Some exhibitions of relevance to the sustainable use and trade of MAPs included the following:

  • Alimentos Nutri-Naturales S.A. is a community-based enterprise owned and operated by women of Ixlu Petén, Mayan Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala, that wild collects, processes, and commercializes ingredients and products based on breadnut seed (Brosimum alicastrum, Moraceae). The first direct customer for their produce is the US herbal tea company Guayaki Yerba Mate (Sebastopol, CA).5

  • Crop Wild Relatives Global Portal ( provides access to information and data resources important for the conservation and use of crop wild relatives. The project is coordinated by Biodiversity International with financing from the Global Environmental Facility and implementation support from the United Nations Environment Program.

  • Global Diversity Foundation is a UK registered charity whose projects include encouraging responsible commerce of 300 species of plants traded in southern Morocco and promoting use of wild food and medicinal plants by the indigenous San people to support healthy lifestyles in sedentary settlements in South Africa, among other locations.

  • Rainforest Alliance is a secretariat of the Sustainable Agriculture Network, which is a coalition of nonprofit conservation organizations that work together to promote socially responsible and environmentally sustainable agriculture.

  • Southern Alliance for Indigenous Resources is a regional NGO operating in 10 southern African countries that focuses on the promotion of rural development through the sustainable utilization, commercialization, and management of natural resources. This NGO showed herbal products including baobab (Adansonia digitata, Bombacaceae) seed oil and pulp, makoni tea (Fadogia ancylantha, Rubiaceae), and sausage tree (Kigelia africana, Bignoniaceae) fruit extract.

  • The Union for Ethical BioTrade stems from efforts initiated by the BioTrade Initiative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development,6 which was created to contribute to international efforts to promote sustainable development and biodiversity conservation. Its Board includes representatives from several natural products companies.

One particularly interesting poster, represented by Gary J. Martin, PhD, director of Global Diversity Foundation, Marrakech, Morocco, was titled “Promoting Conservation and Wise Use of Plants Traded in Southern Moroccan Marketplaces.”7 From March 2003 through March 2007, Dr. Martin and his colleagues have collected over 1,500 specimens of commercialized plants and animals, analyzed the composition of diverse ethnopharmacological mixtures blended by local herbalists, and started an in-depth analysis of medicinal roots based on structured interviews that characterize vendor knowledge of 39 key species.


The IUCN Species Program sponsored a workshop titled “Wild Plants for Food and Medicine—Assessing and Conserving Plants for People.” The workshop focused on the future of plant species assessments and their use in conservation initiatives, such as the joint project of IUCN Species Program and Botanic Gardens Conservation International to assess and conserve the plants of Uganda and Madagascar.

Another workshop was titled “Go Wild! Herbal Products, Local Livelihoods, and the New International Standard for Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ISSC-MAP).” The session opened with the new 6-minute film “Healing Power from Nature,”8 which explains the ISSC-MAP initiative with the voices and views of local collectors of MAPs from around the world. The workshop addressed challenges and benefits associated with sustainable wild collection of plants.

Another seminar was titled “Transforming Markets: The Private Sector’s Role in Securing a Diverse and Sustainable Future.” The main objective was to present and discuss private sector initiatives that aim to reduce measurably the environmental impacts of producing key global commodities while also improving the livelihoods of producers.9

—Josef Brinckmann

* The world's oldest and largest global environmental network, IUCN is a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists and experts in some 160 countries. IUCN's work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO, and private sectors around the world. IUCN's headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.

  1. IUCN World Conservation Congress: what does it aim to accomplish? IUCN Species Newsletter of the Species Survival Commission. January-December 2008;49:11-12.

  2. Medicinal Plant Specialist Group (MPSG). International Standard for Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ISSC-MAP). Version 1.0. January 2007. Available at:

  3. Meinshausen F, Winkler S, Bächi R, Staubli F, Dürbeck K. FairWild Standards, Version 1 FairWild Foundation. 2006. Available at: http://www.

  4. Thomas R. Press Release: New foundation to promote sustainable collection of wild plants. TRAFFIC News. October 9, 2008.

  5. Guayaki Yerba Mate establishes historic direct-marketing partnership with a community-based women’s business in Guatemala. CSR Wire. October 22, 2008.

  6. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) BioTrade Initiative. BioTrade Principles and Criteria. New York and Geneva: United Nations. 2007. Available at:

  7. Abdelaziz Abbad, My Ahmed El Alaoui El Fels, Mohamed Alifriqui, et al. Poster: Promoting conservation and wise use of plants traded in southern Moroccan marketplaces. Marrakech Hay Mohammadi, Morocco: Global Diversity Foundation. 2008.

  8. TRAFFIC and WWF Germany. Film: Healing Power from Nature. Viewable online at:

  9. Holland R. Seminar Report IUCN World Congress Barcelona. Transforming Markets: the Private Sector Role in Securing a Diverse and Sustainable Future. Cambridge, UK: TRAFFIC International. October 2008.