Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sustainable Harvesting of Medicinal Plants

Protected Areas in the Himalayas that are home to pheasants and other wildlife, also harbour a rich diversity of flora, and many of them are valuable as medicinal plants. The medicinal plants (MAP or medicinal and aromatic plants) are used in traditional medicines, and also have a high economic value in the international market.

Excessive harvesting of these wild plants has lead to some of them becomming rare and endangered. In the Himalayas, the collection season also coincides with the spring breeding season of the pheasants, and the disturbance causes nesting failure, among other problems. Therefore, now efforts are on to encourage cultivation of these plants rather than their collection from the wild. Several State and Central R & D Institutions in India have formulated nursery, harvesting, drying and extraction techniques for the MAPs.

An international standard for the sustainable harvesting of MAP was prepared by the IUCN Medicinal Plant Specialist Group, called the ISSC-MAP Ver 1.0 in 2007. This was revised and combined with the FairWild certification and labelling standard in 2010.

Section 1 of this standard, FairWild Principles and Criteria for Collection Operations, states :

Principle 2. Preventing Negative Environmental Impacts
Negative impacts caused by collection activities on other wild species, the collection area and
neighbouring areas shall be prevented.
2.1 Sensitive taxa and habitats
Rare, threatened and endangered species and habitats that are likely to be affected by collection and management of the target species are identified and protected.
2.2 Habitat (landscape level) management
Management activities supporting wild collection of target species do not adversely affect ecosystem diversity, processes and functions.

An update:
Thousands of tonnes of medicinal plants are harvested and exported from the state of Himachal Pradesh alone. Not only does this endanger the population of the medicinal plants, but also affects the animals (insects, birds, mammals) that feed on the flowers and roots of these plants. Another aspect of the cultivation of medicinal plants is that, when cultivated in ex situ conditions, they lose their viability and potency in a few generations. So, the stock has to be constantly replinshed from the wild population. This makes conservation of wild plants and thier habitat even more urgent. A news article about the threats to medicinal plants in Himachal Pradesh, India -

Although the state government is taking steps for the purchase and marketing of the medicinal plants directly from the village harvesters so that they get a good price, it is clear that the government urgently needs to set a limit for the quantity exported out of the state (and check the smuggling of MAPs) in order to prevent their extiction in the wild.

Documents related to medicinal plants from the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttranchal, India -

The Himalayan pastures and forests are also used by graziers (Gaddis) in the summer season for herds of sheep and goats. This causes further depletion of the medicinal herbs. A study conducted in 1999, recommends the following measures -

'As the reckless extraction of minor forest produce particularly the herbs, has resulted in sparser distribution and continuously decreasing regeneration of variety of species, urgent steps to conserve and increase its regeneration are required. The herbs collection must be, more vigorously regulated in terms of both quantity to be extracted as well as checking unauthorised encrochers/collectors. If possible co-operatives of collectors should be formed to safeguard the interests of the poor from the middle men. Illegal timber felling and poaching should be checked; for this purpose more vigilance posts should be established, particularly on the major outlets of forest produce. A number of thatches/pastures have been subjected to heavy destruction by migratory cattles/livestock. If possible they may either be diverted or settled elsewhere. Moreover the rotational closure of pastures is strongly recommended.'

(From - )

Some more links -