The first coffee was drunk over a thousand years ago by Arab traders. According to legend, it was discovered by an Ethiopian shepherd who saw his goats were unusually frisky after eating the caffeine-rich coffee berries.
While still best loved as a sweet confectionary, humans first used chocolate thousands of years ago as a medicine. Anxiety, fever, and fatigue were all treated by chocolate-sweetened remedies made by the Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec civilisations.
This pretty plant from Madagascar gives us two very important cancer-fighting medicines: vinblastine and vincristine. Vinblastine has helped increase the chance of surviving childhood leukaemia from 10% to 95%, while vincristine is used to treat Hodgkins’ Disease.
As with the trade in hardwoods, the capture and sale of animals from tropical forests has become a lucrative business for some people, and is thought to be the second biggest cause of species loss after habitat destruction.
The trade in tropical hardwoods is one of the main reasons for the destruction of the rainforests. Unfortunately, because the most valuable species do not grow close together, large tracts of forest are destroyed to obtain the wood from a few trees.
Throughout the world’s rainforests the greatest losses in cover have been due to the clearing of land for agriculture, in particular for ‘cash crops’ grown in large plantations. These plantations are often controlled by foreign multinational companies with few of the profits going to the growers.
Bananas (Musa acuminata) are the world’s favourite fruit. They are the biggest-selling food product in British supermarkets. However, of each £1 we spend on these fruits the original growers typically receive just 5p.
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