Conservation, Preservation, ESG, and the Work of FairWild

In this episode, Wilson talks to Anastasiya Timoshyna of FairWild. Anastasiya and Wilson talk about a specific conservation effort called TRAFFIC and how FairWild is working to ensure that the trade in wild species is not a threat to environmental conservation. As part of this work, Nuherbs has been supporting the development and the growth of the FairWild Standard and the FairWild initiative. FairWild’s standard is that it brings a rigorous and thorough framework to sustainability of wildcrafted plants, in particular, Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAP plants). In this interview Wilson asks Anastasiya the following questions:

  • What percentage of our herbs would you estimate are wildcrafted?

  • Why is it important to have sustainable practices, with the increase in demand for medicinal aromatic plants?

  • Why does Fairwild include a social responsibility portion in their plan?

  • How do you think companies and brands can become better stewards of these natural resources?

To hear the discussion, listen to the full episode, watch the video, or read the full transcript.

Wilson (00:02):

Good morning. It's a pleasure to have my friend Anastasiya of FairWild on. We've been supporting the great work at FairWild that they've been doing in China. And thanks to you all and your hard work in getting the FairWild Standard approved in China. And with that, Nuherbs is trying to get a project certified by FairWild, but we'll talk more about that later. Anastasiya, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and was there anything you wanted to add about yourself before we begin?


Anastasiya (00:32):

Ah, hi Wilson. Good to see you. So I am wearing a number of hats, a lot of us do. In my day job, I work in a conservation organization called TRAFFIC and we work to ensure that the trade in wild species is not a threat to conservation of nature. And as part of this work, we've been supporting the development and the growth of the FairWild Standard and the FairWild initiative.

And so a lot of my work involves engaging with partners and also implementing projects and managing projects in different places around the world where we try to roll out these good practices on sustainable wild harvesting. So working from places like India and China, through to Namibia, Europe, a lot of different places where the wild plants grow to enable sustainable use.


Wilson (01:37):

Before we start getting into FairWild Standards, since we're talking about the medicinal aromatic plants, or MAPs, what percentage would you say of our MAPs are wild crafted?


Anastasiya (01:50):

It's a really good question and a really hard one to get, right? Because this data is notoriously difficult. So as a rule of thumb, I would say about 60% to 90% of species in international trade are wild harvested. And this is by a number of species and this is an important difference from volume.

So if you were thinking about the volume of species, then the ratio would be reversed. So there are probably between 60% and 90% of cultivated species. And if you think about what these species include, it's a whole range of plant resources used for medicinal and aromatic properties, used as food, as cosmetic ingredients, as nutraceuticals, as food supplements, and lots of other uses. So a whole range of plants.


Wilson (02:47):

Yeah. I love it. By variety, a lot of our plants are wild harvested. By tonnage or volume, then the cultivated plants now start taking a larger percentage. It totally makes sense because we grow or try to cultivate things that we use more often. And then the ones that we might use less often in volume, we might not have the incentive to go cultivate that species.

What I really love about the FairWild Standard is that it brings a rigor and thorough framework to the sustainability of wildcrafted plants. Really it's the component where Organic Standard always says you need to do the sustainability assessment for these organic certified wildcrafted plants, but they don't tell you how.

And I think that's the gap where FairWild comes in and gives us this rigor and their thoroughness that not only addresses the sustainability of the environment and the plants itself, but also the sustainability of trade with what we would consider the fair trade component of it or the people element of it. Can you tell us a little bit more about the FairWild Standard?


Anastasiya (04:08):

Sure thing. Well, I genuinely think it's the best, most rigorous framework out there that focuses specifically on the wild harvesting situation. And I think you're absolutely right. This originally FairWild Standard has been created as an important contribution to filling a gap that organic certification in particular left, but also Fairtrade certification, because the uniqueness of FairWild is in that it brings together all the different elements of sustainability.

So whether you think about ecological sustainability, and by that, we mean the sustainable offtake of the target plant from nature, as well as how it affects other species in nature, be it giant panda or tiger or elephant or other plants. It's about holistic thinking about the management areas and the harvesting areas.It also fully covers the social sustainability of wild harvesting. And this is quite unique because of course, when we think about wild crafting or wild sourcing, the labor situation in which people are wild harvesting is very different from working on organized farms where harvesters could be dispersed between 20 different villages, still harvesting for the same operations for the same company. So defining and creating the rules that do mean that the trade is equitable is actually really difficult and very important.

And then of course it's about economical sustainability as well, so ensuring that the producer enterprise as well as buyer are benefiting in a long term way from wild harvesting. So, a unique standard that's focusing really on defining, "What does sustainability of wild harvesting mean in practice?"


Wilson (06:10):

Yeah, and I think in an interview with Joseph, you said, "Rigor is very important and the whole ecosystem is important because of the links. You can't just focus on one link because they're all interrelated somehow."

Wilson (06:10):

Yeah, and I think in an interview with Joseph, you said, "Rigor is very important and the whole ecosystem is important because of the links. You can't just focus on one link because they're all interrelated somehow."


Anastasiya (06:25):

Precisely, precisely. And I think we had time in the game. This is demonstrated by each case where if our wild standard is used, whether it's in a situation where species are harvested from an area which also hosts largest elephant population in the world where genuinely, through sustainable use of plant resources and people benefiting from this area, you can demonstrate good practices, and can also demonstrate that the interactions between people and other wildlife is positive.

There is a great example of a FairWild project in India, which is just such a wonderful story. This project is in Western Ghats, one of the world's most biodiverse areas in the world. And what it means is that it's got incredible reach. Diversity of species, it's an area that is so important for conservation.

The FairWild project is all about ensuring that the standing trees that the fruits are harvested from are standing. And actually the project started very much by a local partner there as a climate change project, because it was about ensuring that these trees are keeping the carbons within them. But one of the side impacts of the project is that the trees are also nesting size for two species of hornbills.

And so it creates this incredible kind of loop between sustainable harvesting of fruit, which means the trees are standing, which means that the sites for hornbills are preserved as well. And it just shows in a very small example, how things are interconnected. And it could be on lots more listings, but I think this is such an important, integral part of what FairWild is requiring. FairWild requires that there is a management plan and resource inventory is done for the species, which creates baselines for rigor, baselines, for assurance, for companies to demonstrate the sustainability of their practices.


Wilson (08:43):

And that's really great. And especially when it comes to ESG, environmental social governance, and how do you document it. Some of you might do a project, but you don't have a good way to measure or document it, so I think FairWild does a great job there. And like you said, with the project in India or any of the FairWild projects, I think one of the central things that I was reading the that triggered me, I was reading the other day that even with coffee and coffee producers in Indonesia, they were cutting down parts of the rainforest to grow coffee.

But the key was really how do you get economic alignment so that the people at the local level have incentives to, and the ability to support the things that align with our interest? Because at the end of the day, they have to eat, right? And if they can't eat, they're not going to do what's good for them in six months or a year. If your tummy's hungry, you've got to figure out something today. So I think that's great. And can you tell us a little bit more about why FairWild includes a social responsibility portion in their sustainability or ecological plan? A little bit more about that portion of it?


Anastasiya (10:05):

Really, really important. That's, and I started alluding to this, when we talk about wild crafting or wild sourcing of plant resources, quite often we're talking about some of the poorest people in the world involved in this trade. This is a generalization because of course every case is very different, but at large wild harvesters are probably some of the most disadvantaged people around the world. Quite often, they will belong to ethnic minorities, indigenous people, and local communities that depend on the surrounding environment for non-timber forest products, for medicinal plants, for food and so on.

So the social responsibility part of FairWild is extremely important because you're right. I think enabling and providing incentives for people to be part of a sustainable system is extremely important. FairWild has a whole range of requirements that a producer operation and a buyer would need to comply with in order to meet the requirements of the standard. But it is all with the aim of ensuring this trade is equitable, and also that people are paid fairly.

So there are a few mechanisms that FairWild Standard promotes. One of them has to do with the pricing of the products. Again, to enable people to actually benefit and have incentives because they're complying with the higher requirements than organic, for example. And there is another mechanism within the standard that's called FairWild Premium Fund.

And I think it's really, really important. I must say, it's probably one of the hardest parts to work out within implementing the FairWild system. Environmental sustainability people understand, especially for somebody like me who has more of a conservation background, this comes very naturally. Actually understanding how to make the social responsibility principles work is a lot less straightforward.


Anastasiya (12:16):

FairWild Premium Fund requires that the buyer is contributing funds on top of the pricing for the product that go towards the community development. And there are multiple examples of the shapes and forms it takes because it has to be locally relevant. And very importantly, it has to be decided by the collectors themselves. So Wilson cannot come and say, "Well, this year I would like to invest into X."

Collectors themselves as a group need to decide what is the appropriate way to use these additional funds. And over time we've seen, it's a very interesting social cohesion mechanism as well, because as I mentioned, quite often, you have dispersed groups of collectors that don't necessarily talk to each other. So this, in some ways, forces this decision making about funds and access to it and how to use it. It can be used for healthcare purposes. It could be for conservation purposes, it could be used for education. So we see the mix of this quite often used in FairWild projects.


Wilson (13:22):

Anastasiya, tell me a little bit, tell me what's your favorite Premium Fund usage so far. Is there one that comes to your mind?


Anastasiya (13:29):

I think where it has to do with healthcare or education and just always, obviously strikes a lot of, kind of positive reflection. So in one case it was a dental chair that was actually having a rotating sort of function because again, we're talking disparaged communities in some of these collection areas, so ability for people not just access the healthcare, but actually access it where it's convenient for the community, has been a really good example.

All of these examples do have very specific locally appropriate cultural relevance and traditional relevance. In an example in India, the FairWild Premium Fund has been invested in part, for example, to support the temple reconstruction. Again, because that was something, the area where the project is implemented is in sacred groves, the cultural and religious element of this is extremely important to local people. And so the decision, again, once it's made kind of collectively by the user fund can be deployed this way.

Sometimes quite often again, we're talking about, quite often poor disadvantaged people. In other cases, there could be a contribution towards winter expenses or fuel wood. So there are so many different examples of it. And as I say, it's difficult. It's not an easy one to crack, but it's something I really encourage anybody or any company to do, because I think whether or not you use directly FairWild Premium Fund or look for ways to support the communities, I think having that dialogue and listening to where the funds are most needed is really, really constructive.


Wilson (15:24):

Because they know better than we do of course, because it's for them. How do you think companies and brands can become better stewards of natural resources? What do you think companies can do to become better stewards?


Anastasiya (15:43):

Your first question here, you asked me about the percentage of wild plants that are used from wild crafting. And for me, it's always such a striking number. 60% to 90% is a lot of plant resources. And also I think you're very right in terms of saying they're quite often used in small quantities.

So, I feel that sometimes the impression I get from talking to some companies and brands is that this issue of wild harvesting sustainability isn't as important as some other issues. And it's completely understandable that companies have to deal with a lot of issues. Climate change and changing natural resources issues. So I think one thing I'd like to see quite a lot more action and stewardship happening is around this issue of wild resources sustainability.

This is one of the areas where a company's business can be linked directly to the issues of biodiversity conservation. Imagine this, thinking about your supply chains and thinking about how it directly benefits some of those charismatic animals and beautiful plants and vulnerable people. I think for me, unhiding some of these ingredients and supply chains in a portfolio of products and paying special attention to wild harvesting sustainability is something we really like to see a lot more. FairWild is a great way to demonstrate it, using FairWild as a standard. It's available out there. It's available I think in over 15 languages. It's something that is a free resource out there on the website.

But I think even before getting to FairWild and its full implementation, I'd like to see a lot more responsibility and recognition by companies themselves of just how many wild plant resources they're using and for them to celebrate it. I think there is actually a lot of stigma once you start saying, maybe not wanting to say, "Well, we are actually using 50% of wild plant resources." That's something that we should be celebrating because I think through that, we come to the questions of, is it sustainable, how to make it more sustainable, how to demonstrate to consumers that there are some good practices involved. So I think there is a lot, a lot, a lot that companies can do.


Wilson (18:08):

Awesome. I think one of the things that I'm going to do when we recap this conversation with you is that we want to include a link to the FairWild Standard. And I, as with you, I strongly encourage people to read the FairWild Standard. At least they get conversant in what it could be, even if they might not be ready to adapt it today or do a project today. There's a lot of great information in there and I can't wait to have you back, or a colleague of yours, to do a deep dive, hopefully into our Certified FairWild Northern Schisandr