Here’s a link to an article in the Guardian on June 12th 2015. Gone are the days when intrepid plant-hunters could plunder the resources of the world and give nothing back.
Sticks of cinnamon
It’s not just about decorative flowers for our gardens, or food plants like potatoes and corn, or even straightforward herbs and spices like cinnamon, vanilla or nutmeg.
These days, there is big money to be made from extracting constituents from plants, or using genetic material, to make all sorts of things from new drugs to pesticides – and who knows what next?
By Winfried Bruenken (Amrum) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
The first picture is of Hoodia gordonii, a beautiful desert species in Namibia. It’s been used traditionally for time out of mind by the local tribespeople, to suppress hunger cravings on long hunting trips. Like a lot of plants growing in marginal environments, it contains some very interesting compounds, and you can imagine the potential market in the overweight western world. An appetite suppressant that bypasses the need for willpower? To the scouts from the drug companies, it was simply a cash cow.
Fortunes have already been made out of Hoodia, but not by the people who live where it grows
Its new celebrity brought them nothing but trouble as the prospectors moved in, annexing land, overcollecting plants, and attempting to secure exclusive rights to the profits.
It wasn’t until some concerned outsiders started to publicise this, and got legal representation for the tribespeople, that the rights of the indigenous people, and those of the fragile environment in which they – so far – have managed to live sustainably, began to be defined in law, let alone protected
Now, a portion of all profits goes to the region and its people. Of course, it’s a work in progress, as the Guardian article shows. And of course, new prosperity can bring its own problems, but it has to be better than being at the bottom of the exploitative food chain.
So it’s up to us to question where our miracle cures and quick fixes come from, and to make an informed decision about whether to buy into the process or not. Sometimes, the price is simply too high.