One of the key motivating factors behind our work has been the positive environmental impacts that sustainable Biotrade – if done the right way – can yield.
Our basic premise is that if trees are worth something to the producers and communities that live with them, then they have an incentive to value and conserve them and the surrounding ecosystems. Over the years, our impact monitoring research has shown that our premise carries weight.
PhytoTrade has seen local producers set up tree nurseries and monitoring the condition of trees in community forests and in the wilderness of their own volition. In some countries, producers have developed new systems for tree conservation. They carefully protect naturally regenerating seedlings that would have previously been eaten by livestock or cleared or burned for agricultural expansion. We have seen this new-found knowledge and understanding of biodiversity friendly harvesting and conservation practices being passed to producers without outside intervention.
Social and cultural impact
One of the most satisfying aspects of PhytoTrade Africa’s work is seeing first hand evidence of women who through Biotrade feel more empowered as they gain greater financial independence. This is often realised as producers get larger incomes from the sale of natural products which they typically re-invest into other household enterprises such as constructing houses for renting out, sewing, livestock, micro-credit schemes or kiosks. This enables them to gain increasing returns and to break the cycle of poverty. In this way, the producers are better able to meet their basic needs necessary for day to day survival – and through, for example being able to send their kids to school, might also break the cycle of generational poverty.
PhytoTrade Africa has seen powerful examples of social and cultural renewal in some communities where we work. Often young people regard cultural traditions surrounding the harvest of native species as backward and old-fashioned. But with increased interest from outside groups, and increased incomes from native species, young people have begun to see these trees as something they want to learn about and understand again. Youngsters began participating in traditional festivals promoting native species use and conservation, and became proud of their cultural heritage again.
Our work has also seen producers forming themselves into groups and cooperating with one another. Groups are important as not only do they enable better administration, but they also empower producers to work collectively, thus strengthening social ties and local networks and strengthening the fabric of society. Recent research illustrates how the majority of producers involved in natural products trade were also engaged in conservation or development groups, while only a handful of non-participating local people were involved in groups.
PhytoTrade works to create and support small biotrade businesses to gain the tools they need to be sustainable and profitable. This is done by involving these businesses and communities in value adding activities which encourage responsible business practices, technological transfer, product innovation, job creation, increased incomes and retaining biodiversity and promoting economic growth and trade integration throughout the region. Small to medium enterprises affiliated to PhytoTrade employ more than 500 skilled and semi-skilled people, with potential to become multimillion dollar enterprises.
PhytroTrade also works with marginal households that lack formal, stable sources of income. Many of these households are female headed, are aging, and have low levels of education, often preventing them competing successfully in formal job market. These households frequently have difficulty meeting their daily needs such as food, education, and healthcare, typically subsisting on less than a dollar a day. Over the past five years PhytoTrade has engaged with over 15,000 primary producers per annum, with more than 60% of these being women.
Despite the trade being in its early stages, primary producers have already earned several millions of US dollars from their supplies of raw materials. Prospects of boosting these incomes are huge. In some areas, incomes for primary producers have trebled. Trade in our focal species is a supplementary job that is done during the course of 2-6 months of the year. The beauty of this is that natural products harvesting and processing can conveniently fit around other household income generating activities. In addition, having access to actual cash income (in areas where many rely on barter trade) is vital for paying necessities such as education, food, healthcare and investment into other businesses.