|Medicinal plants: Rescuing a global heritage (WB, 1997, 80 p.)|
Since ancient times people have used medicinal plants. Indeed, during the past decade dramatic sales increases attest to a renaissance of both medicinal plants and the traditional health practitioners who prescribe them. Over the last five years in China, for instance, sales have more than doubled, while during the last decade in India exports have soared almost three-fold.
This booming trade-most of it fueled by citizens of the developing world but some of it serving affluent customers in wealthy nations-is damaging the supplies. Most medicinal plants are gathered from the wild. A number are now so overharvested that they feature high on the lists of threatened or endangered species. More are headed in that sorrowful direction and will become extinct unless action is taken.
Nonetheless, what looks like a problem actually provides numerous opportunities for developing nations to advance rural well-being. After all, medicinal plants are one of the few (legal) developingcountry natural products that sell at premium prices. Thus, the global clamor for more herbal ingredients creates possibilities for the local cultivation of medicinal crops as well as for the regulated and sustainable harvest of wild stands. Such endeavors could help raise rural employment in the developing countries, boost commerce around the world, and perhaps contribute to the health of millions.
However, creating a regularized production of these species also raises many difficult issues. Some of these issues relate to medical efficacy and its proof. Some relate to the protection of fragile tropical habitats. Yet others relate to local empowerment, gender equity, regulatory measures, and the rights to traditional knowledge.
The present study-jointly funded by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department and the Research Support Budget of the World Bank-builds upon the authors' brief overview: Medicinal Plants: An Expanding Role in Development. The present sequel is designed particularly to alert specialists in sectors such as agriculture, health, rural development, and international trade to the rising swirl of issues around medicinal plants. Although the focus is on China and India, the authors' fundamental conclusion is universal: medicinal plants are not just for health professionals any more.
Alexander F. McCalla
Agriculture and Natural Resources Department