ethics in trading plants etc from wild collections

Iain Brodie of Falsyde
Thu, 03 Jul 2008 13:11:42 PDT
This is indeed proving both an interesting and worthy debate. I fear aspects of the "issues" raised may come, an admitted generalisation, as a surprise to some and to supreme indifference to others through hopefully a total lack of understanding of the issues arising. It might seem to the latter that "how can they as a mere small cog in the greater wheel have any effect?" No machine functions in the absence of many such cogs, collectively they can fairly wreck the satisfactory functioning of the respective machine, the one under discussion here is the over exploitation of nature by wealthy [comparatively] individuals and companies of the resources of others less so but who in their own way, for any number of reasons, are over exploiting the same resources through degradation of its / their habitat[s].

I think I am correct in assuming the participants here are enthusiastic growers of plants who while for some must make a living from this they still retain a healthy annual degree of 'wonder' at the beauty of it all from the outset of the cycle of a species' seed sowing to the point at which the results themselves produce seeds to sow. Forgive me if I prattle on about species rather than hybrids, for the latter would not exist without the former, regardless of the merits or demerits of using valuable and oft time rare genetic resources in producing the latter. 

There are two clear elements as far as I can see, one is the issue surrounding seed harvested from the wild, the other concerns the harvesting of, in our case bulbs rather than seeds. A third element concerns what we do with the result of what is harvested let alone the manner in which it is done.  An earlier posting raised the question as to whether there is or has ever been and example of ex situ versus in situ conservation benefit. One example which comes to mind of a win win is that of the bulbs of various species such as Snow Drops, Crocus, etc endemic to Turkey. The European Union introduced regulations prohibiting the importation of bulbs of these genera unless their cultivation in situ or close to could be demonstrated. Very quickly the major European Bulb wholesalers and retailers were able to engage poor farmers in the production of these genera as a form of cash crop. The end result was a fairly successful, if not totally so, arresting of the destruction of these species within the mentioned genera while injecting some valuable [a] legitimate cash income to the individuals and their communities, as well as [b] raising the awareness by these folk as to the value of what had previously been seen as little better than weeds which wealthy westerners were daft enough to fork out money for.

I would argue that this same model could be transferred to peasant communities, the word 'peasant' is not being used by me in the pejorative sense, in countries as far apart as China, South Africa and South America. These new crops are of the very finest type commercially, i.e. high value - low volume. Here for example in the UK and other parts of the EU every company engaged in the sale of these types of plants, bulbs and corms, MUST state on their sales literature "bulbs sold from cultivated stock" as they are required to do by law. Clearly I am not aware of what the position is in Canada or the USA but would very much welcome learning what it is as this directly relates to a section of my Lily book.  I would imagine that if, as so often happens on many other issues, the North Americans get behind such an ethical position we would see a dramatic change in a very short time. it does obviously mean that from the final customers point of view he / she will have to get used to paying an appropriate price which reflects both the time and effort, never mind skill, which nursery men and women need to ensure the profitability of their businesses. It also implies a direct increase in the amount of labour employed in those industries while cutting out a huge amount of airmiles and road miles involved in the transport of bulbs etc. I also imagine there will be a direct affect in short order resulting in greater efforts by gardeners to take better care of what they buy to grow in the knowledge it cost them first time around and any fowl-ups mean it will cost them more to undo the carelessness first time around.

Changes, legislatively and peer pressure are increasing all around the world and the smart folk will get on to the curve while still low down and particularly those business's who mean to stay in for the long haul who will benefit most. I sell nothing but plants grown from seed, most of it wild collected seed employing locals, often highly educated and knowledgeable but whose financial circumstances are by our western standards not of the best. The sales here at ABG are surplus plants to those which are grown to study cultivation requirements ex situ as well as education, admittedly ours is a tiny contribution to the overall scheme of things but this botanic garden is entirely based on private funds, we receive zero from any government department. We do insist on, and receive a premium for our surplus plants based on the fact that they are all cultivated stock of known provenance where at all possible and used to support what we do. We also do not knowingly accept bulbs dug up from the wild, to a certain extent on the rare occasions when bulbs are accepted every effort in so far as possible they are expected to be grown under cultivation but there is in reality not absolute way of knowing if this is always the case. In any event they automatically go into quarantine even if local regulations don't require us to do so. One important aspect of not trading in bulbs, wild or from elsewhere except under exceptional circumstances is that we can ensure, as far as possible, we continue to have a squeaky clean Phyto sanitary situation and that means our plants are organic, there simply are no chemicals on the premises far less using them which is one as aspect of considerable importance trading and or working in Western Europe. The public increasingly demand it, are willing to pay for it and ensure politicians commit to it through various Acts of Parliament in their respective countries. We have come along way in the past decade, its really quite remarkable.

For those who doubt, or are concerned about the viability or feasibility of ex situ plant conservation there are significant and increasing examples of species saved by the first step of buying time through ex situ propagation, its up to the big boys in government to sort out the issues which have created the threats to species in situ. Such work is I would suggest well about the pay scale of those of us on this forum, but we can lean on the philistines aka politicians. At the end of the day if there are votes in it they will be up for it.

Sorry to babble on for so long but I do genuinely believe gardeners can make a huge difference if only from making known to others what they learn about during the cultivation of their plants. There is no room for gloom but immense scope for hope.


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