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  • Brazil takes stock of its medicinal plants

Brazil is setting out to record its medicinal plant species in order to crack down on the trade of its plant life, both within and across the country’s borders.

IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, announced last week that it will create a database and research centre on medicinal plants, which may hold a cure for diseases such as AIDS and cancer.

The agency is also to set up a working group to develop a conservation programme for the sustainable use of medicinal plants.

The move comes following a report released on 22 February that reveals a severe lack of information on the use and trade of medicinal plants in Brazil, home to the most biodiverse ecosystem in the world.

The report — Medicinal Plants of Brazil: General Aspects of Legislation and Trade— - calls for clearer legislation and monitoring of the harvesting and trade of therapeutic plants.

“There is definitely a need for more research,” says co-author of the report, Ximena Buitrón of TRAFFIC South America, a wildlife trade monitoring group that published the report together with IBAMA. “Not enough species-specific information on medicinal plants is filtering though the system in order to analyse the effectiveness of requirements already in place.”

Brazil has so far recorded 300 medicinal plant species, but they represent less than 10 percent of the country’s total herbal remedies, according to IBAMA. The new database should allow Brazilian scientists to get a better handle on the real use of medicinal plants to protect them from ‘bio-piracy’ by foreign pharmaceutical companies.

Indeed, many of Brazil’s medicinal plants may currently be threatened by unsustainable harvesting, Buitrón says. “The local use of plants in Brazil for medicine is amazing, and the demand for these plants from foreign companies and laboratories is also growing.”

The study recommends more information exchange between IBAMA offices and other control authorities. It also urges increased cooperation with other sectors, such as the healthcare industry, in order to better analyse and understand the impact of use and trade on wild medicinal plant populations.

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