Million-euro project helps the socially disadvantaged harvest wild plants
Brno, 30/07/2011 – Mendel University in Brno will begin teaching rural residents and those of low socio-economic status how to harvest and use various types of wild plants, including medicinal plants, aromatic herbs, mushrooms and wild berries. The school has joined an international project of four Central European countries whose goal is to support rural residents from areas with a high rate of unemployment. The target group is minorities, for example the Roma, as well as active retirees and women on maternity leave, university representatives told the press on July 26.
Experts from the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovenia are creating a database of appropriate botanical species that grow in the various regions. Soon they plan to approach the appropriate candidates to train in sustainable harvesting and usage of the plants.
“We will help them obtain certification, so they can deliver their products to the market. We will help them with promotion at regional events,” said the project backer Gabriela Růžičková from the university’s Faculty of Agronomy The situation regarding the harvesting of plants and the purchase of such products varies, and it will not be easy to create a uniform model.
Medicinal and aromatic plants in central Europe have been collected since antiquity. Gatherers but must be knowledgable about where the species grow and how to recognize them. Previously, such knowledge was passed down from generation to generation. During 20th century urbanization, the transformation of the landscape and lifestyle changes broke down this tradition. Even the current environment provides ample opportunity to harvest plants, but people must proceed carefully. Inappropriate or insensitive ways of harvesting would lead to threats to the plants’ natural habitats. “There must be something left over in the habitat, so that these activities can be performed in years to come and by other generations,” stressed Růžičková.
Experts from Mendel University want to train 60 people from the Highlands and Southern Moravia in the next three years. In all four countries a total of 200 people should be trained. Which plants they will focus on and which products they will offer will depend on them. Experts from the university believe that families in rural areas have many traditional recipes that use wild plants and fruits. They could then try to sell what they have made for themselves for years.
“The project will last for three years and is divided into six-month periods. The project will also offer access to those interested in modern facilities. Mendel University is, for example, preparing to buy a modern condensing dryer. This indirectly implies that students could also participate in the project, specifically in conjunction with the study of specialty crops,” said Růžičková for Czech Radio.
The training will be followed by marketing activities associated with distribution and advertising. The project is planning to also generate a common logo for all four states. The question remains how much the cultivation and processing of plants can help improve the lives of the underprivileged, specifically how much they can earn doing this.
The project, funded by the European Social Fund for Development, is also supported by the Agrarian Chamber of the Czech Republic. Products, according to the head of the regional chambers Vaclav Hlaváček, could, for instance, be sold at farmers’ markets. Good advertising will be necessary, however.
“The result will depend on how all the involved parties, especially the consumer, approach the project. The consumer is dependent on the marketing strategy of multinational chains,” said Hlaváček.
Overall, the project will be funded for a total of nearly EUR 1.2 million in all four countries over a period of three years. As Růžičková stated for news server Romea.cz, Mendel University has received financial support of EUR 100 000 for the project’s three-year duration. Fifteen percent of the funding must be supplied by the university itself. Finances are to be used mainly for training and the promotion of the project. According to the statement by Růžičková, the Czech project will not be geared specifically for members of the minority communities, as it will be in Hungary, for instance.
The spectrum of wild plants that can be harvested in the Czech countryside is diverse, according to botanists. The most typical examples are rose hip, elderberry, stinging nettle, chamomile, berries and wild fruits, including non-traditional varieties. The types of spices picked could include wild Apiaceae plants, which include caraway and fennel, according to Růžičková.
ih, Czech Press Agency, Czech Radio, translated by Gwendolyn Albert