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Focus Issue:
A Primer on Sustainable Utilization

Too often, existing land use practices lead to pollution, deforestation, habitat loss, and a significant reduction in biodiversity. Traditionally, for example, medicinal plants and other natural plant products were harvested to meet local needs, but growing population pressure, habitat loss, and escalating commercial demand for wild botanicals have significantly increased the impact of harvesting on wild populations of many species. This trend illustrates the fact that land tenure, management policy, legislation, and economic incentives are often at odds with sustainable use of natural resources. The result has been a very real tension between human development and natural resource management in many parts of the world.

It is important to note that the term "sustainable harvesting" is often confused with and/or used interchangeably with the term "sustainable production" in the herbal products industry. The meaning of the term "sustainable" is very different for the two applications. Sustainable production usually refers to the agricultural production of crops in an environmentally friendly manner, while sustainable harvesting refers to the biological impact of harvesting wild material at all levels, from the individual to the population or species. The sustainable harvesting of plants and other natural products from the wild requires a balance between resource utilization and regeneration, whereas sustainable production focuses on environmental impacts. While there are internationally recognized standards for the sustainable production of a wide range of crops (e.g., organic production standards), the only internationally recognized standards for sustainable harvesting relate to sustainable forestry, and these rely on broad assumptions rather than good biological data for the species involved.

The HRF team has expertise in the use of rapid and simple assessment techniques for assessing the biological impact of harvesting techniques. These methods can be used to determine likely impacts even where there is little biological data available on a species. HRF also has specific expertise in community development and non-timber forest products commercialization. We are therefore well placed to provide advice on product labeling that uses the term sustainable, and can work with organizations wishing to develop eco-labeling and standards for products.

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