GSPC Target 12

Objective I: Plant diversity is well understood, documented and recognized

Objective II: Plant diversity is urgently and effectively conserved

Objective III: Plant diversity is used in a sustainable and equitable manner

Objective IV: Education and awareness about plant diversity, its role in sustainable livelihoods and importance to all life on earth is promoted

Objective V: The capacities and public engagement necessary to implement the Strategy have been developed


Wild plants provide a wide range of products. These products include food, fuel, fibre, timber, medicines, dyes and cosmetics amongst others. 

A very large number of wild plant species are used by humankind. For example, more than 50,000 medicinal and aromatic plants (MAP) species are used globally.

The poor in developing countries are particularly reliant on products derived from plants harvested from the wild, both for direct use and on the income provided by selling the plants they collect.

The demand for natural products in the food, cosmetics and medicinal market sectors especially, is growing worldwide. Of the roughly 30,000 plant species with documented medicinal or aromatic uses, approximately 3,000 are found in international trade, an estimated 60–90% of them harvested from the wild—often with little consideration given to ensure the sustainability of supplies.

Download an introduction to Target 12 here.

Learn more

Medicinal and aromatic plant (MAP) species have so far received the most attention under this target.

It is thought that about 3,000 MAP species are traded internationally, while an even larger number of MAP species are found in local, national, and regional trade. Relatively few MAP species are cultivated, however. The great majority of MAP species in trade are wild-collected. This trend is likely to continue over the long term. However, over-harvesting, land conversion, and habitat loss increasingly threaten a considerable portion (approximately 15,000 species, or 21 per cent) of the world's MAP species and populations. An IUCN Red List analysis by the IUCN Medicinal Plant Specialist Group in 2018 found that only 7% of the known medicinal and aromatic plant species have been assessed against extinction threat criteria—and one in five of them was found to be threatened with extinction.

Overharvest and resource mismanagement are two major contributors to species declines. Growing and changing demand for wild plant ingredients often means that traditional sustainable harvesting practices are being replaced by more intensive and destructive alternatives. Examples of this include the use of heavy machinery in the harvesting of wild licorice root Glycyrrhiza spp., or the destructive collection of American Ginseng Panax quinquefolius.

If managed well, however, sustainable wild-harvesting and trade in plant ingredients could provide holistic management for other species and ecosystems, as well as multiple benefits to wild-harvesters and supply chains overall.

As well as MAPs, other species of concern under this target include non-wood forest products (NWFPs) and wild food plants.

NWFPs (also known as non-timber forest products - NTFPs)  are products of biological origin other than wood derived from forests, other wooded land and trees outside forests. 

Examples of NWFP include products used as food and food additives (edible nuts, mushrooms, fruits, herbs, spices and condiments, aromatic plants), fibres (used in construction, furniture, clothing or utensils), resins, gums, and products used for medicinal, cosmetic or cultural purposes.

Several million households world-wide depend heavily on NWFP for subsistence and/or income. Some 80 percent of the population of the developing world use NWFP for health and nutritional needs. FAO is working to improve the sustainable utilization of NWFP in order to contribute to the wise management of the world's forests, to conserve their biodiversity, and to improve income generation and food security.

In the case of wild food plants, it is estimated by FAO that around one billion people use wild foods in their diets. There is often no easy distinctions between ‘wild’ and ‘cultivated’ foods. Plant foods can thus be envisioned as ‘existing along a continuum' ranging from the entirely wild to the semi-domesticated, or from no noticeable human intervention to selective harvesting, transplanting, and propagation. Wild foods have long provided farmers a ‘hidden harvest’, as they have used co-evolved species and other wild biodiversity in and around their farms to supplement their foods and earnings. A paper on the roles and values of wild foods in agricultural systems can be downloaded here.

The implementation of this target relates to Targets 4 and 6 of the Aichi targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020:

T4: By 2020, at the latest, Governments, business and stakeholders at all levels have taken steps to achieve or have implemented plans for sustainable production and consumption and have kept the impacts of use of natural resources well within safe ecological limits.

T6: By 2020 all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits.

The implementation of this target is linked to Target 11, especially with relation to the formulation on non-detriment findings under CITES.   



According to Articles III and IV and Resolution 16.7 of the Convention on Internationl Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), 'export permits for specimens of species included in Appendices I and II shall be granted only when a Scientific Authority of the State of export has advised that such export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species (following a determination known as a 'non-detriment finding')'. Guidelines have been produced to support countries in making a non detriment finding, which has to take into account various biological, ecological and trade data before permits can be issued. 

CITES Parties also have the option of setting export quotas to meet the requirements of a non detriment finding by limiting the number of specimens of a species that may be exported over the course of a year without having a detrimental effect on its survival.


In response to the decline in wild plant resources, the FairWild Foundation was established in 2008. It promotes the sustainable use of wild collected ingredients, with a fair deal for all those involved throughout the supply chain. The FairWild Foundation promotes the FairWild Standard and a certification system for sustainable management and collection of wild plants, which is based in part on the International Standard for Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ISSC-MAP).

Principles of the FairWild Standard may be implemented in different ways: as guidance for resource management, supporting development and implementation of regulatory and policy frameworks, serving as a basis for internal monitoring and reporting (voluntary codes of practice), and through a certification system.  Download an information sheet (PDF) on implementing the FairWild Standard.

Learn more about the FairWild Standard in this short video, a product of the Traditional and Wild project.

The FairWild Standard Version 2.0

  • Guarantees sustainability for both wild plant and human resources, by combining the principles of fair trade, international labour standards (based on principles of the International Labour Organisation) and sustainability for wild collection (all principles of the ISSC-MAP).

  • Foresees the management of plants and involved people through a management plan.

  • Requests resource assessments for target plant populations.

  • Requires an organizational structure for collectors in order to work jointly with the wild collection company on improvement of their social situation.

Tools and resources

Please also check in the database of Tools of Resources for Case Studies relevant to this target.

Guidelines for the Development and Implementation of Management Plans for Wild-collected Plant Species used by Organizations Working with Natural Ingredients. (552KB)

With this publication, UNCTAD and its BioTrade Initiative aim to contribute to the work on sustainable management of wild resources that are used for the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. 


The FairWild Standard in practice (111KB)

The FairWild Standard provides guidance on best-practice harvesting and trading of wild-harvested plant (and similar) resources in eleven key areas 



In 2015, the global reported trade for medicinal plants alone was valued at over US$3 billion, a threefold growth since 1999, although the figure is likely to be a significant underestimate, as the customs code used for the analysis does not include all relevant plants. The top exporters were China, India, Canada, Germany and USA, while the top importers were Hong Kong SAR, USA, Germany, Japan and China.of them was found to be threatened with extinction.

A report produced by TRAFFIC in 2018  'Wild at Home: An overview of the harvest and trade in wild plant ingredients' demonstrates how sustainable wild plant harvesting can contribute to wider wildlife conservation goals. The report highlights a dozen wild plant products consumers and business should look out for in products they use, including liquorice, frankincense, gum arabic, juniper, pygeum, goldenseal, and shea butter. 

The launch of the FairWild Standard has  provided a tool to measure progress towards this target. Suppliers following the FairWild Standard adhere to strict rules regarding the sustainability of harvesting operations and ensuring the harvesters work in safe conditions and receive a fair and equitable payment for their produce. Products meeting the requirements are FairWild certified, and products containing them can bear the FairWild logo.

Under the FairWild certification system, a wide range of different plant species have been certified and ingredients are already available on the market. Certified operators are based in countries ranging across Europe and Asia, with a number of other projects in development.

Ingredients include those from species in high demand such as liquorice root (Glycyrrhiza spp.), elderflower (Sambucus nigra), linden flower (Tilia spp.), as well as those important in traditional medicine systems such as Ayurveda (Terminalia spp.).

For full details of currently certified operators and ingredients please download the list of FairWild-certified species and products (PDF).

The Union for Ethical Biotrade (UEBT) has been tracking people’s awareness of biodiversity and interest in ethical sourcing since 2009.  Over the years, the UEBT Biodiversity Barometers have shows a close connection between people and biodiversity: high biodiversity in a country goes hand in hand with high biodiversity awareness and ability to describe it. Furthermore, High awareness of biodiversity translates in high expectations towards companies that use biodiversity.  In the 2016 survey, 95% of respondents in Latin America (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela) said they expected companies to respect biodiversity, and 93% say they would be more interested in buying from a company that pays attention to biodiversity. In the 2017 survey , UEBT showed that active contribution to biodiversity conservation (protection of local plants, such as wild flowers, or animals like bees) convinces people most that a brand respects people and biodiversity.

The 2017 review also highlighted that business is increasingly realising the importance of biodiversity as a vital source of innovation and inspiration. With the mounting importance of naturals, respect for biodiversity is imperative to assure long-term access to natural ingredients. There is also a growing realisation that biodiversity contributes to ecological resilience of sourcing areas, a key concern in time of climate change, and offers access to a gene pool that assures healthy populations or resistance to new pests.


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