Vietnam_Biotrade_Woman | © Helvetas
Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar

Ethical Trade in Botanicals

© Helvetas

To promote BioTrade, the ethical, sustainable trade in resources derived from natural biodiversity, Helvetas works with local processors, traders, importers and exporters who are prepared to integrate the core values of sustainable use and social ethics into their business practices.   

  • Project Name
    BioTrade: Ethical Trade in Plant-Based Resources
  • Project Phase
    2016 to 2020
  • Funding
    This project is funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).
  • Thematic focus
    Sustainable and Inclusive Economies

Botanicals for beauty and health

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. The so-called BioTrade represents an opportunity of great promise for countries like Vietnam, Laos 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 if prices are fair, 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.

We began with this project in Vietnam. The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) now supports regional expansion of the project into the neighboring countries of Laos and Myanmar.

© Helvetas
The export of herbs, flowers, roots and plant juices is an alternative to monoculture and mass production. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
BioTrade promotes the protection of forests because many of the plants thrive only in intact ecosystems. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
Cinnamon bark is one of the products with which minorities such as the Dao in Vietnam can earn an income. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
The bark is dried locally and further processed. This creates jobs for women from the region. © Helvetas

In one BioTrade project in Southeast Asia, Helvetas works 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. Our focus is on cooperation with selected local companies here that embrace these principles in working with local suppliers and look for suitable international sales channels.

We make our know-how in the development of new markets available to everyone, and put the local companies in touch with experts and advisers. The aim is to create a network of service providers with a shared objective: to promote domestic and international trade in ethically produced natural raw materials.

Helvetas also brings private businesses together with government agencies so the state can lay the necessary groundwork, which involves issuing reliable standards and regulations on the processing of medicinal plants, streamlining customs procedures, drafting fair labor laws, promoting exports and signing on to international BioTrade agreements.

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

Sustainable and Inclusive Economies

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.