Conservation of threatened medicinal plants/trees

Many native medicinal plant species, once found abundantly in the valleys of Kullu, have become scarce and threatened in the wild largely due to population decline attributed to overexploitation, habitat degradation and loss and failure of natural regeneration.  

The ongoing initiative on conservation of threatened species medicinal plants/trees is aimed at conservation and sustainable harvesting of wild flora in the high altitude region. Groups of collectors are being brought together and made aware of the need to harvest sustainably. They are trained in collection methods, harvest schedules and removal of only mature plants after the seeding season. Planting nursery raised plants in depleted pastures and other areas would be taken up seasonally. . Multiple stakeholders including women’s savings and credit groups and herbs collectors are actively involved in assessment of safely harvestable quantities, raising nurseries closer to pastures and in developing / refining systems for sustainable harvest.

Currently, four high altitude medicinal plants species i.e. Aconitum heterophyllum (Atees) – EN (Endangered), Picrorhiza kurrooa (Kutki) – EN, Appendix II, CITES, Valeriana wallichii (mushkbala) and Dioscorea deltoidae (Shingli-Mingli) – Negative list, EXIM policy have been raised in the nursery and planting carried out in some sites.  

Medicianl Plants
Aconitum heterophyllum (Atees)
Medicianl Plants
Aconitum heterophyllum (Atees)
Medicianl Plants
Aconitum heterophyllum (Atees)
Medicianl Plants
Valeriana wallichii (mushkbala)

Useful tree species like the wild or bitter apricot (Prunus armeniaca), walnut (Juglans regia) and wild peach (Prunus persica), green oak (Quercus Dilatata)  are raised in the nursery and distributed to villagers for plantation on their own land.

Three different approaches to conserve and produce medicinal plant species threatened in the wild are being explored.

1) Sustainable wild harvest:
Inculcation of sustainable harvesting practices of wild harvest has obvious advantages of high bio chemical content and low input cost. The Working Plans prepared by the Forest Department has sound basis for closure of an area for 5 years to allow natural regeneration of forest and other non timber forest produce. In reality, free access of right holders/ non right holder to common property resource and early & destructive harvesting technique to maximize collection in one hand, and on the other, inability of the government to check ruthless extraction has made it very difficult to engage people to adhere to sustainable harvesting practices.

2) In situ conservation:
The obvious advantages of in situ production are:
a) Access to an area where the mentioned species grow naturally, low input costs, understorey to existing enclosed area for raising tree species, chemical free produce and scope for engaging communities of nearby villages.

Under this initiative, efforts are being made to build the interface between user group and the Forest Department. The prime objective of building consensus among villagers, especially households traditionally engaged in medicinal plant collection, was to seek protection of the enclosed area with foreseeable benefits in mind. Series of discussions and meetings resulted in the Forest Department (under the PFM rules) signing a MoA with the user group based in Thach village, to allow production of medicinal plants in the existing enclosed area of 3 hectares.

3) Production in private plots:

Traditionally high altitude villages have rights over “kotley”/Ghassni located close to the forest year, are allowed as rights holders to collect grass. These lands until recently were left unattended but some farmers have started cultivating crops that required very little inputs. Chande Ram, a farmer from Tiun village planted 5000 plantlets of Picrorihza kurroaa in half bigha kotlay land. The planting material was sourced from Tiun nursery and planted under the supervision of nursery incharge.

From the interaction with farmers and especially herb collectors, it clear that uncertain economic gains from production of medicinal plants is one of major factor dissuading them from taking up this activity. Also the cost of production and prevailing market rate based on the wild harvest act as a deterrent. Increased use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in apple /fruit orchards poses yet another challenge to organic production of medicinal plants in farmers land.

Improved marketing and market access to farmers for wild collected or organically grown medicinal plants holds a major potential to persuade villagers to take up medicinal plant related activities in a bigger way. Value addition, done locally, would be another possibility, but skill upgradation, assured supply side position and again access to efficient markets for value added products are a constraint. These could be addressed by specific project support.

* Click to enlarge the photos