|Medicinal Plants: An Expanding Role in Development (World Bank, 1996, 32 pages)|
In virtually every developing nation, plants are used in medical practice. But now, as a result of rising numbers of people and of an aging populace, many medically important species are becoming scarce; some are facing the prospect of extinction. In India, for instance, providers to the indigenous health care systems have begun recognizing that supplies of raw plant materials cannot be guaranteed. As a precaution, they now require producers to deliver two year's supply in advance. As a further precaution, some are establishing farms specifically to cultivate medicinals.
Such experiences are by no means limited to India, and they serve to raise an alarm. As noted, most developing countries depend on plants for their traditional forms of medicine. Alternative sources of health care are unavailable for many of their peoples. What should be done to assure future supplies?
Despite the potential for disaster, few of the vulnerable medicinal species are today protected by conservation legislation. The new Global Biodiversity Strategy should be a help in protecting such a resource. However, until recently it was focused primarily on protected natural reserves, ignoring agricultural, marginal, and degraded lands, all of which are important sites of threatened medicinal-plant biodiversity.
Although the World Health Organization and other health-oriented institutions have supported medicinal-plant projects, the international development community at large has not addressed the issue of medicinal plants in the overall framework of natural resources. As of now, for instance, few developing countries or economic assistance organizations have any policy or strategy that addresses their roles, present or potential, in dealing with medicinal plants.
This neglect could be serious. Many seemingly unrelated projectsthose dealing with conventional agriculture, forestry, land reclamation, rainforest protection and infrastructure development, for instanceaffect medicinally important wild species. In addition, such high-value botanic resources might have immense value in development projects. In fact, medicinal plants may contribute to the success of future programs dealing with such diverse subjects as agriculture, forestry, biodiversity conservation, health care, and social and economic sustainability.
A successful strategy for medicinal species will involve economic, agricultural, social and environmental inputs. For this reason, the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department of the World Bank is undertaking an evaluation of the present situation and the likely future needs of the medicinal species. The present document is just a small first step. Its purpose is to elicit comment and suggestions for the main paper, yet to come. This second review will focus primarily on three countries, analyzing and drawing lessons from their separate approaches to the regulation and development of medicinally important plants. From that, it is hoped, will come important lessons for all nations.