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Beijing is committed to developing the industry alongside its flagship Belt and Road initiative, according to a new report.
Beijing-sponsored expansion of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in many African countries risks the illegal wildlife trade and threatens the future of some of the world’s most endangered species, a new report warns.
The growth of the TCM market, coupled with the perception of Africa as a potential source of TCM ingredients, is a “recipe for disaster for some endangered species such as leopards, pangolins and rhinos,” according to the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) , which investigates wildlife and environmental crime, said the report released on Wednesday.
China is promoting traditional medicine, which is more than 2,500 years old, along with its flagship Belt and Road initiative, which is developing road, rail and other large infrastructure projects across Africa.
While most treatments are plant based, industry demand is blamed for driving animals, including pangolins and rhinos, to the brink of extinction.
“Ultimately, the unrestrained growth of TCM poses a serious threat to biodiversity in many African countries, all in the name of short-term gain,” said EIA animal rights activist Ceres Kam in a statement.
“Any use of endangered species in TCM could potentially stimulate further demand, create incentives for wildlife crime and ultimately lead to overfishing.”
The Lethal Remedy: How the Promotion of Some Traditional Chinese Medicines in Africa Poses a Great Threat to Endangered Wildlife Report said that TCM products have never been more accessible in Africa, with TCM companies and clinics in countries across the continent and Beijing to step up advertising in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most TCM treatments are based on plants, but activists fear that the aggressive expansion of the industry will further fuel the illegal trade in endangered species [File: Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo]
Wanting to build full supply chains from source to sale, some retailers have called for stricter monitoring of TCM and government action to prevent the use of endangered wildlife in their products.
While China has tried cracking down on rare species in traditional medicine, there are still some who prescribe remedies like aphrodisiacs or to treat diseases from cancer to skin conditions. The status of a ban on the use of rhino and tiger parts, imposed in 1993 and suddenly lifted in 2018 before the government made an apparent U-turn, remains uncertain.
“We know that traditional medicine is an integral part of many cultures and plays an important role in health care in Africa and beyond,” said Kam.
“Our real concern is that such a large expansion of TCM in Africa as is happening as part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative will dramatically increase the demand for wildlife treatments and, in turn, result in more species being threatened or die out. “
Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, health care, including strengthening the links between TCM and traditional African medicine, is likely to be a key topic of the upcoming Sino-African Cooperation Forum (FOCAC) due to begin in Senegal later this month.
The EIA found that South Africa, Cameroon, Tanzania and Togo were among the African countries that had already signed agreements with China to develop TCM, while South Africa and Namibia had recognized TCM as their public health systems.
According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, China overtook the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009 and achieved total trade of over $ 200 billion in 2020.