Conserving medicinal plants of Nepal

Woman with medicinal plant, Tatopani A Hamilton

The World health Organisation estimates that about 80% of the world’s population relies on traditional plant based medicine – wild medicinal plants. This is not a bad thing. These resources are locally collected and those who collect them have a vested interest in sustainable collection. Arguably relying on locally sourced medicine, accessed through local knowledge is a very sustainable health care model.

The problems only arise when demand rises, usually from trade.  The trade in medicinal wild plants has been identified as one of the biggest threats to medicinal plant communities in Nepal. Addressing it is vital.

The Ethnobotanical Society Of Nepal (ESON) – Allacy project in 2007,   Community-based Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Potential Medicinal Plants In Rasuwa, Nepal Himalaya, highlighted the value of a community led conservation approach. Local traditional medicine practitioners, local communities and ESON worked together to identify key actions to implement sustainable collection and ensure access for the local community to medicine going into the future. The approach has potential to be of value in all conservation circles, but it shows its most obvious benefits when it comes to medicinal plants.

There is an interesting parallel in the approach to plant conservation most usually adopted in countries like the UK. Plant conservation is not seen as a national priority. Where action is galvanised, it is often led by a ‘community of interest’, like Plantlife supported by its 8,000 members.

If we can bring the two approaches together, we have a strong model to roll out sustainable use of locally sourced plants, a locally accessible health care system and long term trade potential for wild collected plants. One of the keys however in achieving that final step is to value adequately the collected plants.  A start has been made through the Fairwild Standard While this standard points a way forward, we need to see much wider adoption of community led conservation before we will see a change in the status of wild plants.

Image: (c) Alan Hamilton