Report of the Task Force on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Medicinal Plants
The Planning Commission, government of India, set up the Task Force on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Medicinal Plants on June 14, 1999. The chairperson was Dr. D. N. Tewari (member of the Planning Commission at the time).
In India, the report
states, medicinal plants are considered to be an important therapeutic aid for
alleviating ailments. Approximately 8,000 species of medicinal plants are found
in the country. In rural areas, common ailments are often managed with home
remedies including spices and condiments like pepper, ginger, turmeric,
coriander, cumin and tamarind. The report states that the current practices of
harvesting medicinal plants are unsustainable and tend to deplete their ‘natural resource base’.
The nine-chapter report contains
an introduction (Chapter I) and discusses such themes as the conservation
and development of medicinal plants (Chapter II); the cultivation of
such plants (Chapter III); research and development (Chapter IV);
standards and quality (Chapter V); the demand and supply of medicinal
plants (Chapter VI); intellectual property rights (Chapter VII); policy
and institutional arrangements (Chapter VIII); and the Task Force’s
conclusions and recommendations (Chapter IX).
The World Health Organisation, the report states, estimated that 80 per cent of the population of developing countries rely on traditional medicines – mostly plant drugs – for their primary healthcare needs.
Medicinal plants constitute approximately 8,000 species and around 50 per cent of all the ‘higher flowering’ plant species of India.
About 90 per cent of medicinal plants used by the industries are collected from forests. Over 800 species of such plants are used by various industries for production, and less than 20 species are under commercial cultivation.
Over 70 per cent of plant collections involve ‘destructive harvesting’ because of the use of roots, barks, wood, stems and the whole plant in case of herbs.
The report defines crude drugs as the dried parts of medicinal plants (roots, stem wood, bark, leaves, flowers seeds, fruits, and whole plants) that form the essential raw materials for the production of traditional remedies of Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Homeopathy, and Tibetan and other systems. Such drugs are also used to obtain chemical constituents for the production of modern Allopathic medicines.
The quality of medicinal plants depends on the geographical origin, time and stage of growth when it was collected, and the post-harvest handling.
Several medicinal plants have been assessed as endangered, vulnerable and threatened due to over-harvesting. Habitat destruction in the form of deforestation has added to this. The government of India has listed 29 species believed to be threatened, which cannot be exported.
Most of the produce of cultivated medicinal and aromatic plants is exported as crude drugs. India is one of the major exporters of crude drugs – 75 to 80 per cent goes to the USA, Germany, France, Switzerland, UK and Japan.
The report states that there were 1,889 recorded herbal patents in the world between 1995 and 1998. Of these, China had 889 patents, and India had close to none. It recommends generating systems to promote intellectual property rights.
The report notes the need for a nationwide survey of sacred groves (defined as areas of natural vegetation preserved through local taboos and sanctions related to spiritual and ecological values), to record the conservation of their biological diversity, and the legal status and ownership of the groves.
It is difficult to attribute an objective economic value to the medicinal knowledge of local and indigenous communities for a number of reasons. The report states that different groups such as intellectual property experts and indigenous and local peoples' organisations must cooperate to define mechanisms so that they can share the benefits of medicinal plant trade more effectively.
The best and most cost-effective way to conserve medicinal plant varieties is through in-situ conservation, or where a wild species or stock of a biological community is protected and preserved in its natural habitat. This can be done by establishing biosphere reserves, national parks, wild life sanctuaries, sacred groves and other protected areas.
Focus and Factoids by Pratik Dixit.
Task Force on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Medicinal Plants (Chairman: Dr. D. N. Tewari)
Planning Commission, Government of India, New Delhi