Value chains of herbal medicines: research needs and key challenges in the context of ethnopharmacology

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Booker, A, Johnston, D, Heinrich, M 2012, 'Value chains of herbal medicines: research needs and key challenges in the context of ethnopharmacology', Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 140, no. 3, pp. 624-33. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2012.01.039

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Background Value chain analyses are commonly used to understand socioeconomic and power relationships in the production chain from the initial starting material to a final (generally high value) product. These analyses help in terms of understanding economic processes but also have been used in the context of socioeconomic and socioecological research. Aims of the study However, there is a gap in the ethnopharmacological literature in terms of understanding what relevance a critical analysis of value chains of herbal medicines could have. Here we provide a research framework for achieving such an analysis. Methods An extensive review of the literature available on value chains and their analysis was conducted, based both on a systematic online search of the relevant literature and a hand search of bibliographies and discussions with experts in value chain analysis Results While the concept of value chains is commonly used in the relevant industries, very few studies investigate the value chains of herbal medicines and products derived from them. The studies identified mostly look at socio-ecological aspects, especially in the context of sustainable resource use. We suggest an analytical framework which can help in understanding value chains in the context of ethnopharmacology and can serve as a basis for addressing questions related to value chains and their relevance in ethnopharmacology. Conclusions We identified a crucial gap in current ethnopharmacological and medicinal plant research which impacts on a wide-range of factors relevant for a sustainable, socio-culturally equitable and safe supply of herbal medicines.