Scientists meet in Geneva to discuss global trade in wild plants

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Scientists meet in Geneva to discuss global trade in wild plants

Geneva, 11 August 2003 –The Plants Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is meeting in Geneva from 12 to 15 August to evaluate how to promote the conservation and sustainable use of rare and valuable wild plants.

Experts representing Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and Oceania, as well as leading scientific institutions and specialized NGOs will consider how best to regulate trade and promote sustainable use of orchids, devil’s claw, agarwood, Guaiacum and other plants valued for their wood, medicinal, ornamental or other qualities.

The Committee will consider the merits of removing the controls for artificially propagated hybrids of several genera of orchids. These hybrids are traded in enormous quantities, with nurseries producing annually more than 35 million orchid plants, but the trade itself has no impact on the natural populations. Relaxing the current controls would allow enforcement officers to focus on the smuggling of endangered orchids stolen from their natural habitats. Orchids form the largest family of plants, with over 20,000 species in 750 genera and can be found on all continents.

The devil’s claw (so named because of the peculiar shape of its seeds) is a medicinal plant native to Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. It is used in pharmaceuticals for treating arteriosclerosis, diabetes, hepatitis, and other ailments. An estimated 20,000 southern African households depend on this plant for their main source of income. Earnings from harvesting are very low with harvesters receiving between USD 0.80 and USD 2.10 per dry kilogram of tubers.

Agarwood is a product obtained from various trees of the genus Aquillaria, which range from Papua New Guinea to Vietnam. It results from the trees’ reaction to a fungus infection of the wood. Agarwood is used to produce incense and perfumes, mainly in the Middle East. High-quality Aquillaria wood can fetch up to USD 10,000 per kilogram. Only part of the wood of one in five trees is infected, and agarwood can not be detected until the tree has been cut down and broken into smaller parts. This causes indiscriminate cutting, which poses a serious threat to the species survival.

The Committee will also discuss issues relating to the identification and management of Guaiacum, a genus of three or four tree species from Central America. It is mainly traded for its greenish coloured wood and its medicinal properties.

Note to journalists: For further information please contact Laurent Gauthier at +41-22-7919442/41 or [email protected] For official documents see


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