|Medicinal plants: Rescuing a global heritage (WB, 1997, 80 p.)|
For the immediate future, medicinal-plant farming will be a vital complement and alternative to collecting plants from the wild. Such cultivation will permit improved reliability of supply, and uniform quality of raw materials whose properties can be standardized. Presently cultivation is constrained by a lack of proven methodologies and research funds.
The breeding of medicinal-plant cultivars with desirable agronomic and therapeutic chemical derivatives makes it possible to conserve and selectively utilize highly valuable in-situ germplasm, and ex-situ germplasm in botanic gardens, and in field seedbanks. Cultivation will permit production of uniform materials whose properties can be standardized and from which crude drugs can be obtained unadulterated.
As of now, there are few proven or transferable cultivation methodologies for medicinal plants. Data on plants held in botanic gardens is most readily accessible and a useful starting point. However, the knowledge and collaboration of women, farmers, and traditional health practitioners would be very helpful in identifying, implementing and managing future medicinal-plant cultivation. Many medicinal plants grow well on marginal, remote, or degraded lands with low monetary inputs. Needed are intensive studies on selected medicinal plants to determine optimum environmental requirements for sustainable production. These should be done in collaboration with local farmers.
Farmers and rural communities also have an important role to play developing new sustainable cultivation practices that make medicinal plants compatible with existing food cropping systems and create income generation opportunities to larger numbers of poor people.
The breeding of improved cultivars adapted to different
agro-ecological regions will allow cultivation of medicinal plants under a wide
range of conditions outside the present
sites of collection. An objective, pragmatic approach is required to selecting a realistic number species among the many hundreds potentially available for cultivation trials. The needs, quantities, and frequency of use by traditional health practitioners, women, and pharmaceutical industries in each developing country must be taken into account.
Of all the new frontiers of agriculture, the cultivation of medicinal plants is among the most powerful for doing good for the world. It has the possibility of contributing to all the above-mentioned features: of providing the poor with a (legal) route out of poverty, of saving a heritage of human knowledge and putting it to global use, of revitalizing the economies of run-down rural regions, of saving natural biodiversity as distinct as the Bengal tiger, and of improving the output from tree plantations and natural forests of various kinds. In a sense, medicinal plants can become a financial and biological underpinning that makes numerous agricultural and forestry production systems-including some that are the most fragile and worrisome to the world-sustainable.
All in all, medicinal-plant conservation and cultivation research and development programs can have a major impact by increasing community participation, income generation, poverty alleviation, and affordable healthcare.