The World Congress of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (WOCMAP 2019) which took place in Cyprus from November 12th to 17th 2019 was not just an occasion for scientists from 23 countries to meet and discuss a wide range of research topics on essential oils and medicinal plants but also the backdrop to the formation of an important new organisation, the Global Frankincense Alliance.
The process of co-creating the Global Frankincense Alliance (GFA ) has been initiated by a group of committed people from industry, trade and academia dedicated to the propagation, conservation and sustainable harvesting of frankincense (Boswellia spp), myrrh (Commiphora spp) and associated plant species.
“It seems highly appropriate that the launch of the GFA should have taken place at the Hotel Kaya Artemis on the north east coast of Cyprus”, commented Denzil Phillips, organiser of the WOCMAP special session on Frankincense and Myrrh. “Artemis is after all the Greek goddess of wildlife and plants”.
“The beginnings of the GFA is the culmination of more than 5 years of work by dedicated individuals and organisations from the Arab peninsula, Africa, Europe, America and Asia” states Professor Frans Bongers a leading forestry expert from the University of Wageningen, Netherlands . “Global concern over threats to the trees and the impact of increased harvesting has led to a growing number of research and development activities in range states” Frans went on.”
Furthermore a number of important specialised events have been organised including the 2016 IFEAT round table in Dubai , workshops by the Environmental Society of Oman in Dhofar and the first International Conference on Frankincense and Medicinal Plants (ICFMP) in Muscat in 2018.
“ICFMP 2018 was perhaps the first time that frankincense experts from all over the world gathered to report on new scientific information, identify research gaps and highlight progress in our understanding of this hugely important and often endangered plant species,” stated Professor Ahmed Al-Harrasi, one of the organisers of the Muscat meeting and a key speaker in Cyprus.
At WOCMAP 2019, Professor Al-Harrasi and Dr Abdullatif Khan from Nizwa University impressed the group with the depth and extent of their latest findings on the bio-activity and genomic sequencing of Frankincense.
The WOCMAP special session, which included 14 presentations, an exhibition of different types of resin, and a practical demonstration of how to prepare and use incense, culminated in a round table discussion concerning how to improve the long term sustainability of the species. This led to the call to create some form of alliance of stakeholders with the initial aim to:
- Support the protection and conservation of Boswellia and Commiphora species through promoting propagation, sustainable management, harvesting and use of the trees and their products.
- Promote research into the history, culture, science and benefits of Frankincense and Myrrh and the current status of the trees.
- To encourage value addition close to source to improve the livelihoods of those producing, collecting, cleaning, processing and exporting resins.
- To organize and convene stakeholder meetings to share, discuss and review current information and to identify important gaps in our knowledge of the plants
The initial response to the formation of an independent alliance has been extremely positive. Hussein Fakhry, Executive Chairman of the influential International Federation of Essential Oils and Aroma Trades (IFEAT), who participated in the special session, offered GFA a platform to communicate with his fragrance and flavours industry members. Mark Blumenthal Founder and Executive Director of the American Botanical Council meanwhile agreed that GFA should be included in his newly formed ABC Sustainable Herbs Program.
The companies already signed up were equally encouraging; these included Ayaanie Frankincense, dōTERRA, Neal’s Yard Remedies , Maydi Frankincense, Repha, Salalah Frankincense and Natur-Is-Unique.
As Tim Valentiner, Vice President Sourcing stated “dōTERRA is excited to be a part of this group and to work with other members who are equally passionate about ensuring the future of these precious Boswellia trees and their resins”
A summary report and short video of the 2019 WOCMAP special session on frankincense and myrrh will shortly be circulated to conference delegates and other interest parties. GFA moreover plans to hold its first AGM at the 2nd International Conference on Frankincense and Medicinal Plants (ICFMP) scheduled for early 2021 in Oman. Meanwhile Interim Alliance Coordinator Denzil Phillips has begun a major push to encourage anyone interested in ensuring a long-term sustainable future for frankincense and related plant species to join the Global Frankincense Alliance and contribute to its success.