Envis Resource Partner on Medicinal Plants
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), from its inception, however functioning primarily on conservation of biological diversity, also emphasises the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from its uses. In its Article 10, the CBD calls for (1) adopting measures relating to the use of biological resources to avoid or minimise adverse impacts on biodiversity; (2) protecting and encouraging the use of bio resources in accordance with relevant traditional cultural practices; (3) supporting local community to develop and implement remedial action in degraded areas; (4) encouraging cooperation between relevant government agencies and private sectors to develop intervention tools for sustainable use of biological diversity. As expected, every signatory country would integrate consideration of the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity components into their strategy and action plans for biodiversity conservation at national level.
Plants, as one of biological components, have been utilised by the human kind from the beginning for number of purposes. Besides its major uses as food, cloth, timber, etc. delivered through commercial cultivation as crops, there are non-timber, non-crop plants growing as wild in forests and offering number of valuable produces, called Non-Timber Forest Produces (NTFPs), for humans to use. Out of their many uses as NTFPs, plants are the major ingredients of medicine formulations in the traditional systems of medicine including Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Tibetan, Chinese, folk medicine, etc. Around 6000 plant species have been reportedly used as medicine in the Indian systems of medicine (FRLHT database). Whatever plants currently used in medicine formulations as raw drugs are primarily sourced through wild collection. In the recent years, demand for plant raw drugs from wild has been on a steady increase from herbal industries as herbal medicines are becoming famous on the notion of medicine without side effects.
Industries, in order to sustain their branded products in the market, somehow manage to procure raw drugs of high demand through their network of faithful traders/agents often paying extra money. These agents and herbal traders, who are aware of whereabouts of raw drugs, would resort to local agents for arranging wild collection either through local community or labourers hired outside. In that context, people would collect in such a way to maximise their and achieve target quantity irrespective of parts collected including roots/tubers/rhizomes, bark, gums/resin, fruits, leaves, whole plants, etc. without considering the negative impacts of their collection practices. On a positive note, still, there are few tribal communities, who traditionally collect plant materials mainly for their livelihood and domestic needs, consider the future needs of these plants and the continuous survival of plants in wild after collection. However, the undeniable truth is that the pressurizing factors such as, increasing demand for raw drugs from industry, need of quick monetary benefits among collectors, mass use of migrant labours for collection, over exploitation through unlimited collection, practice of destructive collection methods, etc. are continuing to endanger plants in wild.
In fact, the sustainability factor in the use of NTFPs/medicinal plants collected from wild has gradually taken a backseat over the years. Many especially consumers, industries, and policy makers seem to follow the utilitarian approach that advocates promotion of herbal medicines as a way of improving human health at the cost of losing/endangering plants in wild. There is an urgent need to design a strategy for sustainable use and management of wild resources especially NTFPs/medicinal plants. Eventually, any interventions attempted should be in the interests of conservation of plants in wild and also stakeholder groups, who use them. If sustainability factor is brought back preferably in the wild collection process through following good collection practices, it would ensure long term survival of plants in wild, thereby benefitting industries with continuous supply of plant materials.