|Medicinal plants: Rescuing a global heritage (WB, 1997, 80 p.)|
So far, only China and India have solidly grasped the possibilities inherent in medicinal plants. In its own way each is starting to confront the threat to its medicinal-plant heritage.
As of now, China and India are the only countries where government policies seek to integrate the traditional and Western medical systems at all levels of healthcare. This has put an especially heavy burden on their stocks of wild medicinal plants. These plants are becoming increasingly rare or expensive due to overharvesting and loss of natural habitat.
With no precedents for medicinal-plant conservation and cultivation research, the examples of China and India must serve as the role models for the rest of the world. This is important also because either India or China could become the world's largest pharmaceutical market. Together they would dominate the traditional medicine usage worldwide.
In China it is the government that is endeavoring to utilize available traditional field and clinical knowledge at all levels of medicinal-plant production: breeding, cultivation, harvesting, processing and marketing. This experience offers many lessons to other developing countries.
India, with its free-market system, has the necessary infrastructure to support the integration of the two healthcare systems. So far, however, there has been little effort to bring together public research institutions (government and university) and the private sector (industry and NGOs) to focus on the plight of the healing herbs.
As it now stands, local collectors in India receive minimal benefit from wild-plant collections. They are unorganized and typically sell their products into markets controlled by unscrupulous middlemen. To date, there has been no significant effort to organize small rural enterprises that can provide income and employment to rural women and men for cultivating, processing and marketing herbal products.