Newsletter, July-September 2006

Conservation Assessment of Medicinal Plants

G Utkarsh

Local Health Traditions cannot be revitalised without ensuring the health of their medicinal plant resource base. Given that the funds, human resources and efforts available for conserving the resources are limited, it becomes necessary to spend these on priority items. A methodological question raised here is how to prioritise what, where, and how to conserve. This is being addressed worldwide by International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and its allies through rapid and participatory appraisal of its threats. The prime purpose of these rapid assessments include sending signals to the government & the user community of the need for urgent action. Conservation Assessment Medicinal Plants (CAMP) workshops are the best known amongst such appraisals promoted by FRLHT. These are conducted at the level of state or states i.e. regions using the threat criteria suggested by using IUCN guidelines. Lessons from six such workshops in Peninsular India are summarised here in anticipation of its future development and application in northern India. This will help in deepening the processes in the areas covered so far.

Rapid Participatory Appraisal

CAMP workshops are participatory rapid threat assessments that synthesise the first hand perceptions of informed resource users. These workshops aim at detecting threat levels, their causes and corrective management options with respect to sensitive species and important localities. IUCN threat categories primarily assess the probability of the species becoming globally extinct given its small population size to high population decline rate. These estimates are based on the collective opinion of concerned field biologists and managers, besides users such as folk “medicine men” or plant collectors. The methodology has been frequently revised by the Species Survival Commission/ Specialist Group (SSC/G) group of the IUCN for application to several macroscopic organisms. This was popularised in India initially through the CAMP (Conservation Assessment and Management Plan) pioneered by the CBSG (Conservation Breeding Specialist Group) for several organisms ranging from mammals and fish to insects. The methodology has now shifted its focus from the global to the regional level, primarily due to demand from managers for local applications-as often local information matters more than global perception. For instance, a plant perceived to be endangered globally may be locally plentiful and its continued usage at a domestic level may be crucial for sustaining LHTs, even if its commercial harvest may not be sustainable. With this logic, FRLHT has facilitated 6 workshops (during 1995 to 2001) in Peninsular India focussing on medicinal plants. This was with initial guidance from the CBSG. These cover the 5 states separately viz. Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, besides a regional assessment for Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu together.

Assessment Process

A CAMP workshop is preceded by elaborate pre-Camp preparations for about two to three months. To begin with, a list of about hundred species of conservation concern from the focal region is drawn. These are shortlisted if these are known to have narrow geographical distribution (e.g. Red Sanders- Pterocarpus santalinus, confined to only a few S. Indian districts); and/or if the species are known to be highly traded. This list of about a few hundred species of concern is circulated to a few reputed field botanists from the region for trimming it to around 50 species, which are, prima facie, perceived to be the most threatened. They may even make a few additions to the initial list. This prioritised list is then circulated to all invitees for their feedback regarding abundance, reduction levels and causes of reduction of prioritised species in their study area. Their feedback is tabulated in the form of a pre-workshop species summary, for discussion, debate, approval and modifications.

One day before the workshop, the workshop coordination team explains the methodology to the potential group facilitators and plans for the managerial nitty-gritty. The workshop begins by exposing all participants to the methodological nuances, including model discussion of a well-known target species - this is by the whole plenary. The participants then get divided in to 4 to 5 groups of about 10 discussant each, and each group chooses as facilitator a participatory, time-conscious and experienced field botanist. Each group would ideally comprise of participants randomly drawn from all parts of the region- though sometimes a group may represent botanists from a geographical unit for the sake of convenience.

Each group discusses the status, threat level, causes and conservation recommendations for about 10 species, in 5 to 6 hours spanning 2 days. After each group completes its species lot, the assessment sheets are circulated to other groups for review, to be recorded in differently coloured ink by each group. The review of each group's assessments by all other groups is completed in 3-4 hours - this may highlight differences in geographical perceptions if the working groups are geographically divided. The third day is spent in review of each species by the whole gathering during the plenary to address such geographical variations. In the concluding session, the state government officials respond to suggestions by the participants .

Expected Outputs

Post-Camp proceedings include the circulation of the draft report to all participants as well as to non-participants such as government officials - this is for their feedback which is used in revising and finalising the report. The CAMP report can lead to at least two kinds of conservation actions:

Establishment of new conservation areas for threatened species in and around their key populations - especially those that are left out of the existing network of conservation areas e.g. establishment of a conservation area for Janakia arayalpathra, a Western Ghats endemic with very restricted distribution (at Annamalai, Tamil Nadu).

Recovery research and efforts at key population/conservation areas for a few threatened species e.g. wild Nutmeg (Myristica malabarica) around Silent Valley, Kerala. Other likely outputs from a CAMP report may take time and include:

Publicity to threatened medicinal plants highlighting the need for targeted trade vigilance.

Developing an identification guide to traded parts of threatened species to help enhanced vigilance.

Negotiations and action programmes amongst or between research institutions, industries and farmers regarding pilot commercial plantations of key threatened species.

Southern Experience

The aforesaid 6 workshops covering 5 states were held at Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, in the winter season (January to March) during 1995-2001. Over 200 experts contributed their wisdom; 75% of them being field botanists including some college or university teachers, a tenth of the total being forest officials, while industry/ market sources, folk botanists and vaidyas (Ayurvedic physicians) were just 5% each. These workshops assessed about 50 species each, totalling 164 species, as many species were repeated across workshops. Species endemic to Peninsular India (72) accounted for 40% of species assessed while the majority of the species had less than 5% of their global population occurring in the region. A quarter of the species assessed were herbs and climbers each, while trees accounted for a little less than half the total. While 3 species appear to have gone extinct, a tenth are Critically Endangered, while a third each are Endangered and Vulnerable. A quarter of the assessed species is Near-Threatened while a tenth of the species are at Low Extinction risk, despite heavy losses. Causal analysis of threat reveals habitat loss alone affecting a third of the species while habitat loss and harvests together affect a little less than half the assessed species. A quarter of the assessed species are threatened due to very narrow natural distribution coupled to ongoing, human aided habitat fragmentation.

Conservation Prospects

Two thirds of the assessed species are recorded from at least one Medicinal Plants Conservation Area (MPCA) established in the Southern Indian forests by FRLHT and the state forest departments. However, the mere record of a species from an MPCA does not guarantee the presence of its viable population in the MPCA, but only indicates such a possibility in and around an MPCA for future surveys and conservation efforts. 40% of assessed species are not recorded in the MPCA network and have a bleak future in the wild; a third of the species recorded from MPCAs are confined to just one MPCA each, indicating the low scope of their conservation through MPCA networks. Only a quarter of the species are recorded from over 5 MPCAs but these have a strong conservation potential. Thus, the conservation of wild germplasm of about three quarters of the assessed species is an uphill task far exceeding the scope of the current MPCA network.

Management recommendations for the assessed species include a trade or harvest ban for just a tenth of the species facing immediate local extinction. Ex situ conservation is recommended for over two thirds of the species. Cultivation practices exist for only a tenth of the species the rest being entirely harvested from the wild and for which there is neither much cultivation know-how nor much commercial scope today. Only half of the species recommended for cultivation are thus prescribed at a commercial scale - many are being prescribed for just experimental or educational purposes. The level of difficulty in cultivation is expected to be low and medium each for about a third of the species, while it is high and indeterminate each for about a sixth of the species.

Spotlight: A wealth of herbs goes untapped

Jul 08 2006


: Persekutuan,Malaysia

Yong Tiam Kui

The herb-based product industry has been indentified under the Third Agricultural Policy as having the potential to be developed into a major industry. YONG TIAM KUI takes a look at the successes the industry it has had in R&D and the challenges it faces.

THE Malaysian market for herb-based products, including health supplements, traditional herbals, cosmetics and fragrances is estimated to be worth about RM4.55 billion a year, but the irony is that 95 per cent of it is imported.

Why the irony?
Malaysia is the world’s 12th top mega diversity country, which means the raw material is available, and there is also the expertise to turn the raw material in products for consumers.

Forest Research Industry of Malaysia director-general Datuk Dr Abdul Razak Mohd Ali said there is a lot of potential for growth because the global market for herb-based products is estimated to be worth a staggering US$80 billion (RM303 billion).

"Since the Government is promoting Malaysia as a halal hub, we can also go into this market. It’s big and growing (the herbal market), especially in the Middle East.

But he laments that the local herbal production industry is handicapped as most of it is carried out on a very small scale.

"There are hardly any big players in Malaysia. There are 4,000 small set-ups and only five medium-sized enterprises.

"Most of these people lack the resources and expertise to carry out large scale cultivation, research, marketing, investment in machinery, business expansion and improved packaging.

Because of this, the industry faces a number of major problems, including the shortage of quality raw materials and lack of standards and quality assurance, technological mechanisation, skilled human resources and scientific evidence for health related claims.

Owing to the shortage of raw materials, much of the ingredients used in the production of herbal products such as tumeric, ginger, serai wangi and sirih have to imported even though they can be easily grown in the country.

Razak said the "mismatch" between growers and companies that produce herbal products is another problem.

"Felda has plenty of land and a lot of people are growing herbs in the kampung but how do you get the herbs to the manufacturers who need them as raw ingredients?

"If a company needs a consistent supply of turmeric, it would be forced to import the product from India because there is no way to source for it locally."

Razak said that effective marketing was also something that was very lacking in the local herbal industry.

"It is not enough to just come up with products. The marketing has to be there. We also need to have packaging that looks classy.

"But the people who are involved in the industry lack the know-how and resources to market their products."

He noted that it is difficult to market local herbal products because very few Malaysians are familiar with local herbs.

Malaysians, he added, have a preference for imported products.

"If you ask Malaysians about echinacea, they will probably know what you are talking about.

"But they don’t know about selasih, senduduk and other local herbs used by our forefathers. At the most, they only know about tongkat ali.

"Our people have been using mengkudu for a very long time. Then these white people brought in noni juice which is the same thing and everybody got so excited.

Malaysians must be willing to accept our products."

Razak said there was a need for greater collaboration between the industry and government agencies.

He stressed that the Government is committed to developing the herbal industry and points to the fact that the Women’s Health and Asian Traditional Medicine Conference and Exhibition at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur on July 28-30 is being supported by eight ministries.

These include the Health Ministry, Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry, Entrepreneurial and Co-operative Development Ministry and Rural and Regional Development Ministry.

Asam gelugor — the weight buster

MOST of us know asam gelugor or asam keping as a sour relish in asam laksa and asam pedas.

But the kampung folk have another use for it. They have been using it as a weight loss remedy.

Yes, our kampung folk are really on to something, confirm researchers at the Forest Research Institute Malaysia.

Despite its extreme acidity, asam gelugor has been found to be an effective appetite suppressant.

Dr Rasadah Mat Ali, director of FRIM’s Medicinal Plants Programme, said hydroxycitric acid, the active ingredient in asam gelugor, increases fatty acid oxidation in the pancreas, liver and skeletal muscle cells which results in a decrease in appetite.

It also stimulates glycogen synthesis in the liver and inhibits the uptake of serotonin in the brain, leading to further appetite suppression and feelings of satiety.

In addition, hydroxycitric acid also inhibits lipogenesis, the metabolic process that changes carbohydrate into fat. It has been shown to lower blood lipid levels.

Known by the scientific name Fructus garcinia atroviridis, asam gelugor trees are endemic to the northern region of the peninsula and grow up to 20 metres in height.

So, forget about all those expensive weight loss products that could be harmful to your health. Just buy some asam gelugor.

"We have done toxicology studies," said Rasadah. "It’s very safe. It is plant-based and there are no harmful appetite suppressant steroids. The only people who shouldn’t take it are pregnant women."

Those who do not fancy the sour taste of asam gelugor will soon be able to purchase asam gelugor tablets.

FRIM has licensed a local company to produce a standardised extract of asam gelugor containing 15 per cent hydroxycitric acid.

For its research work in asam gelugor extract, FRIM received an Innovative Product Award at the recent 17th International Invention, Innovation, Industrial Design and Technology Exhibition.

The exhibition, organised by the Malaysian Invention and Design Society, was held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from May 19 to 21.

It’s not just asam gelugor that is exciting news in FRIM.

Rasadah said researchers from FRIM, in collaboration with Sirim, have also extracted a standardised citronella oil from the leaves of serai wangi — Cymbopogon nardus (L.) rendle.

This citronella oil has anti-dandruff, anti-microbial and insect repellent properties. Because it has a pleasant lemony smell, the oil can also be used for aromatherapy.

Serai wangi is used traditionally for stomach complaints (the essential oil is rubbed topically), insect repellent (dried or injured leaves are used) and as a childbirth wash in a decoction containing other herbs.

Other efforts by the FRIM-Sirim team:

• A standardised extract of pink guava (Psidium guajava) leaves which contains natural antioxidants that have skin whitening and anti-aging properties.

• An oxidant-rich skin whitener from the skin of the mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) fruit. It works by inhibiting biosynthesis of melanin.

Mangosteen has been used traditionally to control fever and ward of infections.

• Skin whitening properties in antioxidant-rich extract of kadok (Piper sarmentosum) leaves.

The leaves are used by kampung folk to treat malaria, cough and cold, backache, joint pain, toothache and getting rid the body of worms.

• Anti-rheumatic properties of the leaves of Vitex negundo, known by a number of common names including legundi, lemuning, dangla, lipuk and tigau.

These leaves provide the characteristic flavour and purplish colouring of nasi kerabu.

Village folk use the leaves to treat a wide range of conditions, including flu, cough, dysentery, malaria, arthritis, asthma, digestive problems and headache.

Knowing that research alone is not enough, FRIM has licensed several local companies to exploit its research.

The Malaysian products, using local technology and ingredients, will be marketed soon.

More >>


Zimbabwe: Sustainable Use of Medicinal Plants Vital

Jul 11 2006

Category: News

: Harare, Zimbabwe

MAVIS MADANGURE, a 59-year-old farmer and herbalist based in Mhondoro, together with other women and men in her community, tirelessly work everyday in protecting and conserving existing medicinal plants and traditional medicine, simultaneously enhancing their sustainable use.

In attempting to achieve this, they have embarked on a livable utilisation of forests through a community-based programme.

Madangure and her colleagues, aware of the demands of the task at hand, realise that one hectare of forest when sustainably used for harvesting medicinal plants and traditional medicine, logging and fuel wood to a smaller extent, yields more income than clearing it for crop cultivation or animal husbandry.

Environmentalists note that it is indeed a slice of business worth going for, as long as the plants are not plucked wantonly and plundered.

Traditional healers and herbalists point out that most medicinal plants which can be harvested for their leaves, pods, seeds flowers, bark, without killing them can be harvested sustainably and in a measured way.

Animals may also be a source of medicines; insects, frogs and toads, spiders and snakes produce venom that may be curative or toxic depending on the dose and form in which preparations are administered.

However, Madangure and her colleagues are not into animal protection and conservation for medicinal purposes. But consciously or unconsciously, the community efforts and activities are directed towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which set clear targets for improving livelihoods by 2015.

Away from Madangure and her colleagues, Zimbabwe is among 189 Heads of State and Governments, which agreed to the MDGs at the United Nations summit in 2000.

In an effort to bolster such agreements and perhaps bring in efforts and activities like Madangure and her team's to spotlight, in 2001 every African Head of State declared 2001-2010 as the Decade of Traditional Medicine in Africa.

This declaration stipulates that any action that makes the goal of health for all in Africa easier to achieve also helps to reduce poverty.

According to experts in biodiversity; medicinal plants and knowledge of their use are an integral part of the daily lives of people in developing countries.

Women like Madangure and her colleagues, especially, play a major role in the sustainable collection, vending and use of medicinal herbs in the home.

However, despite such commendable efforts, the loss of natural resources is a constant complaint of rural communities.

In view of such concerns, development critics have noted that for the past four to five years, governments, donors and civil society organisations have arguably not directed their work and activities towards achieving MDGs.

Goals such as eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, combating HIV and Aids, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development, have not been effectively linked to programme activities.

If such linkages have existed, it is because they have been minimal, and therefore insignificant. Some efforts by some local non-governmental organisations have been linked effectively with programmes and yet isolated collectively with similar government and civil society efforts.

In many ways, development scholars assert that governments, donors and civil society organisations should have been collectively providing local communities like Madangure's with the tools and materials as well as the training to manage these resource investments which could help restore these communities' resource bases.

According to a commissioned study by the World Bank on the multi-purpose herbal and traditional medicinal plants, this is especially true for their sustainable harvesting and cultivation which can help rehabilitate drylands, generate household income, provide affordable healthcare and help fulfil the demands of a rapidly, expanding global market for natural health products.

The World Bank again noted that local advantages can have greater multiple bio-economic benefits if the plants can be shown to have a global market comparative advantage.

These natural products, asserts the World Bank, have an estimated global market value of US$650 billion. At present, there is no information to indicate Africa's percentage of that market.

However, the bank observes that a market share of one percent (US$650 million) would be a major boon to
Africa's dry-land poor, provided mechanisms could be put in place to ensure equitable sharing of such benefits.

More >>


`Export council must for medicinal herbs'

Jul 14 2006

Category: News

: Madurai

The Sattur Chamber of Commerce and Industries has urged the Union Ministry of Commerce to set up a special export promotion council to give a boost to export of medicinal herbs to foreign countries.

In a letter addressed to the Union Minister of State for Commerce, Mr Jairam Ramesh, the chamber Secretary, Mr P.T.K.A. Balasubramanian, said the move would help purchase of herbs from farmers directly. New exporters also would emerge on the scene.

He said
India is lagging behind China in the export of medicinally valued herbs. While China exports herbal medicines worth $10 billion a year, India exports hardly Rs 700 crore.

India stands first in the wealth of medicinal plants. Of these, even 5 per cent of the plants are not going to export. The valuable medicinal plants will cure many diseases such as diabetes, cancer etc, he added.

More >>


Medicinal plants for cancer cure found in Karnataka forests

Jul 15 2006

Category: News

: Sirsi

In what could be good news for those suffering from ovarian and colon cancer, a team of forestry scientists have found ‘mappia foetida’ species in Uttara Kannada district with high content of camptothecin (CPT), used in the treatment of the killer diseases.

The rare medicinal tree has been identified to be the richest source of CPT and its derivatives, the world’s most sought after plant-based bio-molecules to treat cancer, said team leader Dr R Vasudeva, a faculty in the College of Forestry here.

Earlier, it was derived from a Chinese tree called ‘camptotheca’. However, as the percentage of CPT content was too low, it became necessary to identify an alternative and rich source of the group of Alkaloids, he said.

Dr Vasudeva said that scientists from the College of Forestry and University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, had jointly conducted a survey and chemical profiling of different population of ‘mappia foetida’ in the entire western ghats and concluded that natural plants found in Uttara Kannada had the highest content of CPT (0.7 per cent which was several times more than the other known sources).

Besides, analysis of different tissue samples proved that the stem and bark of the tree have the highest concentration of CPT. He lamented that the tree, commonly known as ‘stinking tree’ due to the bad smell during flowering season, was being over exploited.

As the active ingredient was present in the wood, essentially the entire tree was chopped off. Export of dry wood chips from Mumbai Port alone had recorded a sharp increase from 54 tonnes in 1994 to 760 tonnes in recent years.

Holding the increasing demand for the tree’s twigs and extracts responsible for the dwindling of the species natural population, he said, citing a world bank survey, that while the twigs fetched Rs 15-20 per kg, the processed extract was sold by multinational pharmaceutical companies for US $15,000 per kg in the global market.

Fearing the destruction of more than 25 per cent of the natural population in recent years, scientists have evolved protocols to make CPT harvest sustainable Dr Vasudeva opined that once the high-CPT-yielding trees were identified from the natural population, it could be grown as captive plantations using standardised growing techniques in the wastelands of the Malnad region.

It could be a perennial component of agro-forestry systems, as it was neither fit for grazing nor for use as timber or firewood because of its bad odour. Its good sprouting ability could help farmers harvest periodically once in two years, besides earning them additional income.

He said that along with collaborators from UAS, Dr R Uma Shankar and Dr K N Ganeshaiah, he had been working on the project for the last five years.

More >>

Disclaimer Privacy Copyright FAQ Query Form Reach Us

The site is best viewed in 800x600 pixels and IE 4 & above