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The World Health Organization (WHO) developed the Good Agricultural and Collection Practices guidelines in response to specific dangerous trends across the world. They first created this set of guidelines to help farmers adopt good agricultural and collection practices for herbal medicinal plants. But today, we apply these guidelines to any and every type of botanical agriculture.
Over the past two decades, interest in traditional systems of medicine, mainly herbal medicine, has increased substantially worldwide. As a result, the public and health authorities today are concerned about the safety and quality of herbal medicines. Some people reported developing adverse effects after consuming certain herbal medicines.
The adverse effects could have resulted from using the wrong plant species, over-dosage, contamination with toxic and/or hazardous substances, etc. The effects could also have resulted from using medicinal plant materials, not of a sufficiently high standard. The safety and quality of raw medicinal plant materials depend on genetics, collection methods, the environment, harvesting methods, transport, and storage practices. Microbial and chemical contamination during any production stage can deteriorate the material’s safety and quality.
Medicinal plants collected from wild populations could get contaminated by other species or plant parts. The misidentification, intentional adulteration, or accidental contamination of wild medicinal species can have dangerous consequences. Obtaining medicines from wild populations also raised concerns about local over-harvesting and exploitation of endangered species. We must realize how these processes could impact the environment, ecologies, and local communities. These issues led to the cooperation between United Nations and WHO in overcoming these challenges.
The objectives of the WHO guidelines on good agricultural and collection practices intend to provide farmers and collectors of medicinal plants guidance for obtaining suitable quality materials. The goals also aim to develop sustainable production of herbal products classified as medicine. They apply to the processes of cultivation, collection, and some post-harvest operations of medicinal plants.
WHO developed these guideline objectives to:
1. Improve the quality, safety, and efficacy of finished herbal products
2. Assure the public of the high quality of medicinal plant materials used at the source for herbal medicines
3. Support, encourage and promote sustainable cultivation and collection methods of medicinal plants. The cultivation and harvest methods must respect and support the conservation of medicinal plants and the environment
Good Agricultural Practices
Good agricultural practices are vital in ensuring high crop yield, high quality of products, and minimal negative impacts on local communities and habitats. Governments around the world, especially in India, have recorded positive responses to good agricultural practices.
The practices include:
1. Selection of Plants
The species or botanical variety selected for cultivation should be the same as recommended by national standards or the end user’s country.
2. Botanical Identity
Farmers must verify and record the scientific name of each plant under cultivation. They must also record the plant’s English and common names if they can.
3. Seeds and Other Materials for Propagation
The seed supplier must provide all relevant information such as the identity, quality, performance, and breeding history of the product to the purchaser. Suppliers must sell seeds of appropriate quality. The seeds should be free from contamination and diseases so that farmers can grow healthy crops.
Seeds designation for organic agriculture must be certified. Seeds and other propagation material must comply with regional and national standards. Producers must appropriately label them.
The cultivation of plants needs focused and thorough care and management. Depending on the quality and variety of the plant, conditions and durations of cultivation will vary. In the absence of published scientific documents and data, farmers must follow traditional cultivation methods.
Farmers must rotate plant cultivations throughout the year. They must base the plant rotations on environmental suitability. Wherever appropriate, farmers must follow conservation agriculture techniques. Conservation agriculture techniques help them build up soil organic content and conserve soil humidity.
5. Site Selection
Plants from the same species will show significant differences if cultivated at different sites. They could exhibit differences in their physical appearances or variations in their constituents. Governments must consider environmental conditions and geographical variables and provide this information to farmers.
Farmers must avoid cultivation on sites with soil, air or water pollution. Governments must provide them with cultivation sites away from hazardous wastes. They must offer farmers officials to evaluate the impact of past land uses on the cultivation site, including the cultivation of previous crops.
6. Environmental and Social Impact
The cultivation of plants can affect the area’s ecological balance. It can affect the genetic diversity of flora and fauna in habitats surrounding the cultivation area. Other plants, living organisms, and human activities can affect the plants under cultivation. Introducing non-indigenous plant species in an area can have devastating impacts on the biological and ecological balance of the region. This is why it is essential to monitor the effects of cultivation activities.
By examining the social impact of cultivation on local communities, we can avoid negative effects on their livelihoods. Large-scale plant cultivators must ensure that local communities directly benefit from employment opportunities, fair wages, and capital reinvestment.
Good Collection Practices
Good collection practices are essential in guaranteeing the safety of surrounding wild species, minimal or no damage to the cultivated land, and that end-users enjoy quality assured products. Some of the good collection practices are:
1. Collection Permissions
Before gathering wild plants, plant collectors must ensure that they have the appropriate collection permits and other documents from government authorities and landowners. People exporting plants from the country of the collection must have the required export and trading permits.
2. Selecting Plants for Collection
The species or variety of plants collected should be the same as that specified or recommended by national documents of the country. Plant collectors must submit specimens to the appropriate regional or national bodies for proper identification.
The collection methods and practices must ensure the wild plant populations and their habitats survive in the long run. Collectors should never gather species that are rare. They must ensure that wild populations have the ability to regenerate. Governments must ensure that collectors and buyers of the plant material do not place that particular species at risk.
To ensure the high quality of the produce, plant collectors must gather the cultivated species only during the appropriate season and time.
Based on all the above guidelines, we can conclude that Good Agricultural and Collection Practices ensure that plant species thrive, local communities benefit from their cultivation, and we do not exploit the environment’s resources. Good Agricultural and Collection Practices are crucial to saving our Earth from further damage and reversing the destruction we’ve already caused to it.
Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.