Representatives of all project target groups, including herb buyers and primary processors, producers of herb consumer products, farmers, NGOs, experts from the institutes of organic chemistry and of biodiversity and ecosystem research, experts from the National Nature Protection Service in the Ministry of Environment and Water, the Regional Inspectorate of Environment and Water and the Directorate of Central Balkan National Park participated in the round table.
Mark Redman, a British expert, who has been working in Bulgaria for over 20 years and is well acquainted with the sector and its problems, as well as with the institutions in the sphere and European funding programmes was the moderator of the discussion. Mark presented the medicinal plant processing and value-adding chain, as well as the role of partnership as an approach toward the solution of common problems. He actively involved all participants by asking them to form small groups and to discuss the following topics:
- Stages of value addition for a medicinal plant species of choice, from its harvesting to the end products;
- Problems in the value-adding process;
- Opportunities for solving these problems through partnership.
After discussing the topics, each of the six small groups presented the results of their work and answered the questions of the other teams.
The notes of the summarised results were put on the whiteboard in the hall in order along the value chain, where Mark Redman analysed them with the active participation of all present. The following conclusions were made:
- The largest number of problems and opportunities for their solution through partnership were identified in the primary processing of herbs – the first link of the value-adding chain. This did not surprise anyone because Bulgaria, as a resource country, exports over 90% of its herbs at this stage of processing. The following stages of processing and production of end products are performed mainly outside the country.
- There is a lack of political will, interest and financing for the development of the sector on the part of the government.
- The weak link between the scientific knowledge about herb processing and the development of herbal medicine, cosmetics, parapharmaceuticals, insecticides, fragrances and flavours, etc.
- A serious and frequent problem is the procurement of good-quality raw plant material. The reasons are: a lack of qualified labour, difficulties in training of collectors, violation of collection and primary processing rules.
- Lack of information exchange, networking and association between the different links in the value-adding chain hinders the progress of everyone in the sector.
- Lack of up-to-date information about the state of the habitats and the quantity of medicinal plant resources of different species.
- No information and feedback from users of Bulgarian herb raw material about demand. It is necessary to create an “Internal Herb Marketplace”.
- The speculation with herb prices deprives everyone along the chain of income, especially the collectors and small suppliers of herbs.
Partnership opportunities were identified for the following tasks:
- Medicinal plant resource assessment;
- Application of herb collection rules for wild plants and cultivation;
- Ensuring pesticide and contaminant-free arable land and natural medicinal plant habitats;
- Building of research capacity and ensuring of herb raw material and product quality;
- Introduction of high technology and innovation;
- Exchange of information across the value chain and building of an information system;
- Marketing and ensuring of market opportunities.
The main conclusion from the collaboration and time spent together was, that solving problems through successful partnerships depends on the good will and responsibility of each individual. Personal qualities and connections have a key role in Bulgaria! This is why we promised each other to keep them up and maintain the positive energy and friendly spirit we created in the Linden Blossom Hall, at the Herb Fair in the Agricultural University, Plovdiv on November 7, 2015.
The Foundation Information and Nature Conservation team prepared proposals for the institutions responsible for the conservation, sustainable management and intelligent use of medicinal plant resources. The participants in the round table are invited to participate in the advocacy campaign of the Foundation.