Solidaridad, ProFound Advisors, NBI International/Map-Expo.com, 1-2Taste and Verstegen Spices & Sauses have entered into a dialogue with key stockholders from around the world about proposed idea of creating a B2B marketplace and service platform for Medicinal & Aromatic Plants (MAP’s).
Medicinal and aromatic plants constitute a crucial resource for a wide scale of products, varying from medicines to food supplements, superfoods, food ingredients, cosmetics and body care products. Worldwide, recent consumer trends have boosted the demand for natural ingredients as consumers started preferring natural over synthetic. The COVID pandemic has caused a run on all kinds of natural products that are to boost immunity, and countries like India, China, Madagascar, Ghana and Central African Republic have sparked a re-evaluation of traditional medicine following promising trends with the use of ancient herbal remedies in treating COVID-19. Growing R&D investments are supporting the trend and according to Market Research Future, Europe is expected to lead the market, followed by the Americas and the Asia Pacific region, with an average growth rate close to 6%, totalling up to 130 billion USD in 2023. The expected growth rate of the natural and organic cosmetics market is 9.6%, totalling 25 billion USD in 2024, to name some segments.
THE UNVEILED PROMISE OF MEDICINAL AND AROMATIC PLANTS
MAPs hold a strong promise to help protect and restore biodiversity and to provide eco-agricultural and thus crop diverse farm set-ups with a better business case for farmers. MAPs come in the form of barks, shrubs, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, roots, gums, resins and herbs. MAPs not only help to protect and treat ailments in people, but also animals, plants and soils. Because of their multiple use as medicine, food, food supplements, tea and other beverages, body care products and many other purposes, they can be sold to different markets. New research and development will only increase their potential, as many traditional uses are being backed up by scientific research and new potential uses discovered on a daily basis, with many plants still unresearched.
While many talk about transforming our food systems and making them more healthy and diverse, the question of how smallholder farmers are incentivized and rewarded to change their practices is barely raised. If producing healthy food from healthy farming practices is not rewarded by the market and if investments are still mainly aimed at serving monocultures and international commodity demand and generating foreign currencies, farmers do not even have a choice to shift from monoculture to polyculture farming models.
For farmer families and their communities, having the possibility to year round harvest and sell produce from their farms and herbs collected from the wild, would mean increased resilience in terms of income. This way, MAPs can form an incentive for improving farm diversity and protecting and planting trees instead of cutting them. Quality standards for MAPs would furthermore require a minimal to zero use of pesticides and herbicides and stimulate the cultivation of indigenous species, which in turn would support land restoration and reforestation. In addition, MAPs allow for local value adding and green job creation and for selling to local, regional and international markets, that all have their specific demands.
SMALL AND MEDIUM PLAYERS ARE NOT BENEFITING
In spite of the promise MAPs seem to hold, small and medium players throughout this sector and its supply chains have a hard time riding the market tides and benefiting from them. At the same time the increasing demand for natural ingredients is putting more pressure at source and leading to adulteration of raw materials, unsustainable production and collection practices and even trafficking, while sustainability does not seem to be an issue for the dominant players in the sector.
The MAPs sector is characterized by intermediary trade, untransparent supply chains, a lack of flexibility and suitable solutions for small, medium and newcomer players in terms of product availability, volumes and investment needs. This is the case not only at the supply side, but also at the demand side, where the more innovative newcomer players struggle to find the right product, in the right quantity at the right price. In turn, producers and collectors who supply MAPs from a polyculture system depend on intermediary buyers, as they lack the right knowledge, information, connections and scale to deliver the required quantity and quality directly to buyers. Those who have surpassed that stage and are able to offer a high quality product, have difficulty finding suitable buyers, and the other way around. Once they do have the opportunity to access markets and scale up, they often lack access to suitable investment capital.
DISRUPTIVE MARKET SOLUTIONS NEEDED
The purpose of the webinar was to analyze these issues and assumptions with the participants and discuss the setting up of a ‘one-stop-shop’ type of platform for sustainably sourced MAPs which could connect buyers and suppliers and provide them with relevant information and services. At the back-end, the platform should be supported by smart and effective logistic solutions on the ground.
Jointly, the panelists painted the picture of the issues faced by the different sector and supply chain actors and exchanged ideas with the audience on potential solutions. Solidaridad Asia painted the picture of the Indian producers and market players and the solutions that are being designed through their medicinal plants programme in Madhya Pradesh, India. The Verstegen company gave an interesting insight in how they work directly with producers at source on spice cultivation in agro-ecological farming systems to ensure the right sourcing base for their ingredients.
NBI International elaborated on the potential of African herbs and how they work to promote and trade MAPs with an eye for farmers and collectors. The smart 1-2-Taste Platform for natural flavours and related products provided a nice example of how such a platform could work and look like, while ProFound moderated the discussion and shared lessons and insights from their own work in the natural ingredients sector of the past thirty years.
The active contributions of around sixty participants, representing sector and supply chain actors from around the world, of which many joined us for another hour to continue the discussion, confirmed the relevance of the topic. Solidaridad’s basic idea to develop a digital ‘one-stop-shop’ sustainable MAPs platform, combined with on-the-ground collaborative services, was well received. Next step is to develop this idea further with key stakeholders from our networks and find the necessary funding to make it happen. To be continued.