|Medicinal Plants: An Expanding Role in Development (World Bank, 1996, 32 pages)|
|4. Toward a strategy|
At present, the farming of medicinal plants is small, scattered, and largely informal. Given the increasing global population and consequent rise in demand for medicinal plants, one strategy option is to regard medicinally important species as underutilized crops. Farming these species is not only an alternative to collecting plants from nature, it could help conserve the wild types by relieving some of the pressure on them. Cultivation also permits production of uniform material from which standardized products can be consistently obtained.
Cultivation should be a major part of any strategy. An increasing number of developing countries are already showing an interest in farming medicinal plantstrees, shrubs, lianas and herbs, annuals as well as perennials. In principle at least it seems possible that the cultivation of medicinal plants could be appropriately included in many agricultural and rural development projects. It will demand social acceptance, the incorporation of indigenous knowledge, and farmer and community participation, but it can be done.
Box 3: Market Forces Threaten Healing Ingredients
Rapid urbanization in South Africa is bringing thousands of country people to Cape Town each month. The new arrivals bring with them the tradition of visiting "sangomas" who prescribe herbal medicines.
Gathering herbs from the wild has become a boom industry, and there are fears that some plants' especially those dug up for their roots or bulbs, may become extinct. Attempts by the police to stop people collecting plants have failed. On one occasion six sangomas were arrested while collecting bark in a forest on Table Mountain. Fiona Archer, an ethnobotanist at the University of Cape Town, interceded on their behalf, pointing out to the magistrate that if these collectors were locked up, others would simply take their place. Archer explained, it was an opportunity to cooperate with the healers in finding more sustainable sources for healing plants
The sangomas were released, and the Western Cape Traditional Plant Use Committee was set up. This committee has now discussed with the sangomas plans for cultivating traditional herbs The healers are enthusiastic about the idea because it will save them a lot of traveling, and ensure them a steady supply of plants. The committee, chaired by Cape Town City Council's director of parks and forests. Peter Rist, has applied to the South African Nature Foundation for funding for a full-time worker and cash to start a nursery
Wouter van Varmelo, spokesman for the committee, agreed that the authorities would need to be careful about which species were cultivated, and they were still discussing how much control there would be over the nurseries. The crops will be valuable not only to sangomas, who can sell them in the same way the now sell wild plants. They will also form a reservoir of potential pharmaceuticals. Research is needed to find the basis of most of the traditional remedies before the sangomas' knowledge disappears.
Kate de Selincourt, New Scientist, 4 January,
The cultivation of medicinal plants provides opportunities for genetic improvement. For one thing, selection and vegetative propagation could produce cultivars that are rich in active ingredients and also have desirable agronomic traits such as good yields, pest and disease resistance, and environmental tolerance.
A well managed cultivation program presents an opportunity for local and national authorities as well as communities to exercise a beneficial influence over commerce in medicinal plants and their derivatives a process that could guarantee both safety and efficacy and also ensure fair prices to collectors and cultivators. Both in-situ and ex-situ cultivation programs could be promoted especially to protect those rare, endangered and vulnerable species most threatened in their natural habitats.
Box 4: Helping Restore Healing Herbs
India possesses a long unbroken medical heritage. The Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT) seeks to rejuvenate that legacy for use by the people of India.
The FRLHT is a non-governmental foundation which has links with
the traditional medicine
· In-situ and ex-situ conservation of the plants used in
traditional medicine. Eco-development projects to benefit local communities
living around medicinal plant conservation areas.
FRLHT, Bangalore, India