Ethnobotanical Society of Nepal: unlocking the potential

Set up in 1998, the Ethnobotanical Society of Nepal was conceived just as the links between natural resource use and community development in Nepal were coming into focus. With its highly diverse flora and the diversity of its people, many of whom retain a strong reliance on native plants, the need for an ethnobotanical home in Nepal was clear.

A small dedicated team of specialists, led by Professor KK Shrestha, has been the driving force of the Society ever since. Having delivered training programmes, published reports and books and coordinated local community development projects based on plant use, the society is now at a juncture. Its objectives

  • To enhance documentation and safeguard indigenous knowledge
  • To conserve plant resources
  • To enable sustainable utilisation of plant resources through coordination, promotion and research activities

are just as relevant today as they were a decade ago. But there are now new opportunities to be developed.

Nepal is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). The 16 GSPC goals for 2020 are stretching for all signatories. Yet Nepal is making progress on arguably some of the toughest targets. Take, for example, Target 3: Development and effective sharing of advice and guidance for plant conservation and sustainable use, based on research and practical experience. With experience in medicinal plant conservation, sustainable use and cultivation and more recent involvement in small scale biofuel projects, ESON has built an effective model of working in strong partnerships with local communities, other NGOs, government and universities.

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ESON could contribute more by building on its current work too. Target 13 is a case in point: The decline of plant resources, and associated indigenous and local knowledge innovations and practices, that support sustainable livelihoods, local food security and health care, halted. If Nepal is serious about delivering on the CBD and the GSPC, ESON, even as a tiny organisation with very few resources beyond its dedicated volunteer staff, is leading the way. With its partners, it is delivering projects to ensure a future for rural healthcare by conserving traditional medicine and its plant resources in remote areas.

The Nagoya protocol is another important area of work in Nepal, as it enshrines the rights of indigenous people to intellectual property rights over local biodiversity. Ethnobotany holds the key for the future of biotechnology, with the ability to save time and resources by working with indigenous people to shortlist potentially useful chemicals. This key brings with it a heavy duty however to ensure that those indigenous communities benefit economically from biotechnological developments. It is all too easy for successes in the laboratory to trail an amnesia about the very communities that provided, usually free of charge, the shortcut to success. If ESON is to provide such a service, it will be beholden to ensure those communities benefit economically into the long term future.

ESON is at a turning point. It is looking to reinvigorate its members and to inspire them to get more involved and help the society make more of a difference in the conservation and sustainable use of Nepal’s amazing flora. In developing a new 5 year plan, it is hoping to reach out to new partners and funders, to inspire them to support it in its work to ensure a future not just for plants, but for people too.

You can support their work by donating to my Just giving page at https://www.justgiving.com/Deborah-Long/

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