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Ratanhia (krameria lappacea) is an inconspicuous, bushy plant that grows in
the arid landscapes around the city of Arequipa in southern Peru. In the harsh
climate of the Andes range the ratanhia thrives, with its spreading, branched
root system serving as protection against erosion of thin, dry mountain soil.
The plant has played an important role for Weleda’s dental care products for
over 50 years and is sustainably harvested in the wild.
Originally our focus was on the potential to cultivate the wild plant. Botany
Professor Fatima Caceres from the University of Arequipa and German researchers
Prof. Dr. Max Weigend and Nicolas Dostert launched a Public Private Partnership
project (PPP) to research whether the ratanhia could be successfully propagated
and grown. The first research phase, lasting until 2006 showed that cultivation
of the plant is out of question for two reasons: it thrives only in interaction
with host plants, withdrawing their water and nutrient salts and meaning that
cultivation would require additional plant species in open fields, almost
impossible in practice. Ratanhia’s specific biology presented the second hurdle
– it grows extremely slowly, taking between seven and 15 years to become large
enough even for the first harvest, so the investment and the maintenance effort
in the field would be complex and impractical.
Weleda has also had to overcome another problem. As ratanhia is valued in the
global market for medicinal plants, it is at high risk. In the world market at
least 70,000 plant species are used with a harvest of half a million tonnes of
medicinal plants each year. These are traded in the economic centres of the
world, with confusing trade flows and no great incentive for the actors in this
global business to lay their cards on the table, affecting ratanhia trade as it
does that of other plant species.
According to official figures Peru exports around 40 tonnes of ratanhia a
year, of which one ton goes to the Weleda Group, but many of the sources are not
transparent. So in 2002 Weleda decided to enter into a broad-based cooperation
agreement to set up a sustainable procurement project - with the conservation
authority ‘INRENA’, scientists, collectors, dealers and the German ‘Gesellschaft
für Internationale Zusammenarbeit’ (GIZ).
With this cooperation it was possible to create a sanctuary of 2,000 hectares
in the Arequipa region for the sustainable wild collection of plants. A plant
inventory was created using three sample plots, in order to intensively explore
the natural regeneration and annual growing patterns of Ratanhia. Findings from
these studies helped lay the foundations for a sustainable collection strategy.
Initially only parts of the root were to be harvested, but researchers and
Weleda’s plant buyers gradually developed a remarkably simple method – the
collection area was divided into five sectors, in each of which every fifth
plant could be harvested with their roots. As they harvest, the collectors also
plant ratanhia seeds in the disturbed earth to ensure the continued regrowth of
seedlings. Long-term observation and analysis shows us that this targeted
natural regeneration of the plant population works well, and protects the future
of the plant.
This project in which Weleda has now collaborated for almost 10 years with
its German and Peruvian partners secures the ratanhia that is so important for
Weleda’s dental care products. One ton of dried roots are harvested annually in
the province of Chuquibamba. The ratanhia is collected in accordance with
sustainable collective concepts and is processed in Europe. The collectors
receive an agreed and fair wage, which assures them of an important extra
income. Weleda gets a transparent, sustainable and secure supply and the company
can use this valuable knowledge to support the development of other wild
The effort we put in, and the support from our partners has not gone
unnoticed. Peruvian conservation authorities intend to make ‘the sustainable
collection method’ a law for all companies that want to export ratanhia. This
means that only those who sustainably collect ratanhia are also allowed to
export from Peru. In the near future this strategy could also be applied to
other medicinal plants, which would be an important step towards sustainable
Unique balancer of damp and drought
An ancient plant which awakens inner forces and fights fatigue
The Krameria Triandra Root Extract contains many tannins that have an astringent (tanning) effect, e.g. to the oral mucosa. Therefore, the dark brown root extract is a particularly suitable ingredient for mouth and dental care products.
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