The focus group carried out in Spain involved three experts in MAP with a major focus on training. A professor from the University of Santiago de Compostela who teaches training in Plant Production, including a module on MAP and mushrooms; a botanical expert currently working as an independent consultant for forestry and environmental planning, management and training; and a forestry engineer with experience in the production of cosmetic products based on MAP, and environmental education.
The focus group addressed six main questions regarding the MAP sector in Spain, from the economic impact of MAPs, training necessities and clustering with other activities to best practices and organic cultivation.
Regarding the MAP sector in Spain, the participants highlighted the relevance of the western part of the peninsula, the Mediterranean and southern areas, where climate conditions are better for MAPs. However, they found it difficult to estimate the sector’s impact in Spain, especially in terms of harvesting, due to a lack of supervision and control. Regarding species, arnica, gentian, laurel and eucalyptus are highly relevant in Galicia. On the other hand, lavender, thyme and mint, among others, stand out in the rest of Spain.
Although most people think and focus on producing plants for tea or essential oils when it comes to MAPs, in recent years, experts pointed out that the applications for these plants are extending to new fields such as the animal feed to reduce the use of antibiotics. In addition, harvesting edible wild plants, including MAPs, and producing homemade natural cosmetics are also raising significance in the sector. However, since large quantities of the plant are needed to obtain a benefit, as well as some processing, most of the interest is expressed in terms of individual production and self-sufficiency, with is less interest in commercialisation.
Along these lines, participants highlighted some insights about what are the challenges and priorities for the medicine and aromatic plant sector in Spain:
- Make MAP production profitable. A large part of the profits goes to intermediaries (wholesalers). To reverse this, producers should be able to complete the process from production to commercialisation.
- Create and take advantage of a production and marketing system based on association, which is already successful in other sectors at the local level (e.g. seafood).
- Take advantage of resources such as forest communities since they can provide land to produce MAP at a low cost.
- Ensure resource protection in the harvesting process. Unfortunately, there is little training in this area, and harvesters do not always do it correctly, which affects the environment, MAP quality, and biodiversity.
- Related to the above, complete training and accreditation for collectors and products before reaching the market could avoid depletion of wild resources. Nowadays, there are a few guides to facilitate sustainable harvesting but no formal training at all.
- Finally, there is a need for greater control of the introduction of foreign species, which end up being invasive and disrupt the natural dynamics of the environment.
Organic cultivation has also been discussed. Participants underlined that the quality of the plant is crucial for MAPs. Although they believe that any plant intensively produced should have an organic seal, it isn’t easy to achieve for all species. For example, native plants such as thyme are easier to organically grow because they do not require special care or conditions. In any case, for organic MAPs to be profitable, cultivation and harvesting are not enough. The more processes a single producer covers (up to the final product), the higher the profits. They believe this would be the only way out when it comes to small scale productions.
A relevant impact on local economies is difficult to achieve if working with MAP as an isolated activity since currently, the one who produces MAP is the one who earns the least. As mentioned above, there is a need for more training, awareness of good practices, and some processing of cultivated/collected MAP, reducing dependence on wholesalers.
Overall, it appears that the objectives of WildMAPsFiT cover key issues for the MAP sector in Spain. Providing adequate training, a certification system, digital tools, and focusing on local communities and youth may cover the main gaps reported by stakeholders in the focus group research and the interviews and questionnaires conducted in the project.