Vietnam_Biotrade_Woman | © Helvetas
Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar

Ethical Trade in Botanicals

© Helvetas

The countries of the Mekong region have experienced rapid economic growth and urbanization in recent decades, but at the expense of increasing inequality and strong negative impacts on the environment and accelerated loss of biodiversity. BioTrade, an ethical and sustainable trade in resources derived from natural biodiversity, is a solution for these countries to tap high-end markets with improved quality and value added products while protecting biodiversity and equal benefit sharing among stakeholders.  With a new BioTrade business model established, the Regional Biotrade Project puts in place necessary services and other supports for self-sustaining sector growth.

  • Project Name
    Regional Biotrade
  • Project Phase
    2016 to 2024
  • Funding
    This project is funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).
  • Thematic focus
    Private Sector Development

An upscaling of a sustainable and ethical trade model

More meat. More palm oil. More rice. More everything. And as cheap as possible. The large-scale production of foodstuffs for foreign markets takes its toll on the health of agricultural workers and the environment, putting especially heavy pressure on highly biologically diverse ecosystems, as in Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.

Exporting herbs, flowers, roots and saps to industrialized countries is a viable and sustainable alternative to mass production of foodstuffs. Botanicals that have been used for generations to heal ailments or preserve beauty in Southeast Asia are increasingly in demand in the phytopharmaceutical and cosmetics industries in developed countries. BioTrade represents a great opportunity for countries like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. BioTrade protects forests because many of the plants concerned only thrive in intact ecosystems. It creates jobs because gathering or growing the plants is labor-intensive. And because fair prices are an integral part of the concept, it improves earnings across the board, from harvesters and farmers to workers and salaried employees in the processing, distributing, and selling of these natural products.

During the first phase of the Regional Biotrade project in Southeast Asia, Helvetas worked with traders, processors and import and export companies that integrate the core values of sustainable use of the environment and social ethics into their everyday business practices. We successfully introduced the  new concept of Biotrade into regional supply chains and established significant new exports of Biotrade products from Mekong region countries.

© Helvetas
The export of herbs, flowers, roots and plant juices is an alternative to monoculture and mass production. © Helvetas
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© Helvetas
BioTrade promotes the protection of forests because many of the plants thrive only in intact ecosystems. © Helvetas
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© Helvetas
Cinnamon bark is one of the products with which minorities such as the Dao in Vietnam can earn an income. © Helvetas
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© Helvetas
The bark is dried locally and further processed. This creates jobs for women from the region. © Helvetas
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Upon these achievements, the project puts greater focus on the business supporting services and communication needed in the sector. We work with market systems actors and facilitate the transition of their roles in ways that permanently transform how the system works, contributing to the self-sustaining of Biotrade sector and the equitable and sustainable economic growth of the region.

© Helvetas
Dao minority women on their way home with freshly picked tea leaves from the old Shan tea gardens. © Helvetas
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© Helvetas
Dao women collect wild medicinal plants in the forest. © Helvetas
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© Helvetas
In a course, farmers learn how to grow medicinal plants themselves. © Helvetas
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Private Sector Development

Economic growth does not always benefit the poor and poverty is bad for growth. We need to make a proactive effort to break this vicious cycle.

How Helvetas Supports People in Vietnam

Helvetas promotes sustainable tourism in the mountainous regions of Vietnam and advocates for the protection of medicinal plants.

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Multimedia Story: Where Tea Grows on Trees

The small farmers supported by Helvetas had better not be afraid of heights when it comes to picking tea leaves up in the trees.