Medicinal Plant Conservation Areas (M.P.C.A.s)
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M. P.C.A.s are managed as “hands off’ areas with only the following interventions, wherever required - fire management, soil and moisture conservation and weed management/encouraging native vegetation. On-field research, collection of germplasm for research and multiplication and right of way and water to the local communities are also allowed. All harvesting operations, thus, stand suspended in the M.P.C.A.s. M.P.C.A.s are sites with known medicinal plant richness, based on literature and local interaction and are less disturbed, but easily accessible. They are relatively free from local rights and livelihood issues. They form compact manageable units and encompass different forest or vegetation types and altitude ranges.
During 1993-2019 TDU guided the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change; State Forest Departments and N.M.P.B. technically to establish the world’s largest network of 210 in situ conservation areas for conserving wild gene pools of medicinal botanicals. These conservation sites are called M.P.C.A.s (Medicinal Plants Conservation Areas). Most M.P.C.A.s are of the average size of around 200 hectares. The 210 M.P.C.A.s are located across 21 States spread in the North, South, East and West of India. Around 90 M.P.C.A.s were designed and created by
N. M.P.B. during 2005-2015 and the rest by State Forest Departments under the technical guidance of F.R.L.H.T.-T.D.U. This is the largest in situ conservation program in the entire tropical world.
Of the 210 M.P.C.A.s in India, the first 34 M.P.C.A.s were established during 1993-1997 with the support of D.A.N.I.D.A. (Danish International Development Agency) in southern Indian states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. These M.P.C.A.s were created in forest areas with rich floristic diversity. Later, species-specific M.P.C.A.s were established to capture the viable wild population of threatened medicinal plants. For example, Kollur M.P.C.A. was established in the Udupi district of
Karnataka in collaboration with the State Forest Department of Karnataka. This M.P.C.A. is located close to the famous Mookambika temple and is spread over 300 hectares. Along with Saraca asoca, more than 20 species of threatened red-listed plants and around 200 species of other wild medicinal plant species occurring in the M.P.C.A. are also being conserved.
The M.P.C.A. established at Kollur, for long-term in situ conservation of the wild gene pool of Saraca asoca has been an important highlight of the pioneering medicinal plant conservation program initiated by F.R.L.H.T. in southern India. Similar efforts, for other threatened or highly traded medicinal plants of southern India, have resulted in the establishment of the Anappadi M.P.C.A. (Kerala) to conserve Utleria salicifolia Bedd. ex Hook.f., Kulamavu M.P.C.A. (Kerala) for Coscinium fenestratum (Goetgh.) Colebr. and Nambikoil M.P.C.A., near the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (K.M.T.R.) for Decalepis arayalpathra (J. Joseph & V. Chandras) Venter. In total, 74 M.P.C.A.s were established under the Country Cooperation Framework I project, the Country Cooperation Framework II project and the Global Environment Facility project and 12 M.P.C.A.s were established with the support of N.M.P.B. In order to conserve the important threatened, endemic and highly traded medicinal plants there is a need to establish a nationwide network of M.P.C.A.s across different forest types. More than one M.P.C.A. will have to be established across the range of distribution of the species, to capture the viable population and conserve the gene pool.
Success Stories of Conservation
Wild medicinal plant species face various types of threats such as loss of habitat due to fragmentation and exotic plants, over-exploitation, human interference, disease, predation, landslides and trade. Understanding the bottlenecks in the reproductive biology of these species, followed by an informed in situ conservation action, can contribute to their recovery and long-term conservation. Medicinal species can be successfully protected under the in situ conservation program in reserve forest areas where they occur naturally. Three such examples are presented here.
Commiphora wightii (Arn.) Bhandari
Commiphora wightii is one of the high-value medicinal plants and an important endangered medicinal plant of dry regions of India. The oleoresin of this plant is extensively used in the Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani systems of medicine. It is widely used to control cholesterol and obesity. Unscientific tapping methods, in order to increase yield of oleo-gum resin to meet the increasing market demand have caused mortality of plants, leading to the near-extinction of this species.
Its common names are Guggul (Hindi), Guggulu (Sanskrit), Kukkulu and Mahisaksi (Tamil). It is critically endangered (Rajasthan) according to A2c, d; A4c, d ver. 3.1 of the I.U.C.N. red list categories and criteria (Reddy et al. 2012). In India, its wild populations occur in the arid, rocky regions of Rajasthan and Gujarat, along with a very limited presence in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Annual domestic consumption of guggul gum by herbal industries was estimated at 1000-2000 M.T. for the years 2014-2015 (Goraya and Ved 2017). The major portion of this was reportedly imported from Pakistan. Oleo-gum resin obtained from other species of Commiphora (Balsamodendron) are the adulterants.
In Situ Conservation
Under the N.M.P.B.-funded project, Gujarat State Forest Department established M.P.C.A.s at Tharavada and Mathal. Both of these M.P.C.A.s harbor sizeable wild populations of this species. Rajasthan State Forest Department has established two M.P.C.A.s in dry, deciduous and thorn forests at Barkochra M.P.C.A., Ajmer Forest Division and Gajroop Sagar M.P.C.A. in Jaisalmer District under the Government of India-U.N.D.P. project coordinated by F.R.L.H.T.
N.M.P.B. has supported projects through Department of Environment & Forest, Gujarat State Government during the financial years 2007-2008 and 2010-2011 with the objective of establishing Medicinal Plants Conservation Development Areas (M.P.C.D.A.s). Six M.P.C.D.A.s, namely Mangvana, Gugliayna, Tharvada, Ler, Mathal and Kurboi Nabahoi in Kachchh circle (Gujarat) were established to cover an area of about 1200 hectares. Many activities such as base line survey, inventory and mapping work, establishment of M.P.C.D.A.s for guggal, raising of seed production areas for getting seeds, awareness generation among forest staff, farmers and local community through various training programmes were initiated. The wild population of guggul was augmented to be used in future for the raw drug, gene bank and research and development work. Apart from these, various activities were also initiated for raising of nurseries, area development, soil moisture conservation and fencing of the area. During the project period eight training programmes were organized for farmers and forest staff for mass scale cultivation of guggul in Gujarat State.
Decalepis hamiltonii (Wight & Arn.)
Decalepis hamiltonii is the only species without a cousin in the botanical world. Over-exploitation and destructive harvesting of the roots are the major threats to the plant, causing population reduction. Its vernacular names are Sariba, Svita sariva (Sanskrit), Magali Ьёги (Kannada), Nannari (Malayalam), Makali kijahgu (Tamil) and Maredu geddalu (Telugu). It is endangered under A2c, d of ver. 3.1 of the I.U.C.N. red list categories and criteria (Mishra et al. 2017). It is endemic to the Deccan region and occurs in the hilly tracts of Eastern and Western Ghats of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It is sparsely seen in Kerala. Annual domestic consumption of Svita sariva by herbal industries was estimated at 200 M.T. for the year 2014-2015 (Goraya and Ved 2017). It is extensively used for the preparation of pickles in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Most of the herbal industries use this species as a substitute for Hemidesmus indicus (L.) R. Br. ex Schult.
In Situ Conservation
A sizable wild population is being conserved in Savanadurga M.P.C.A. in Bangalore rural district and Devarayanadurga M.P.C.A. in Tumkur district by Karnataka Forest Department.
Saraca asoca (Roxb.) W. J. de Wilde
Saraca asoca is one of the most sacred plants of Hindus and a boon for women to treat disorders related to menstruation and fertility. Nevertheless, in view of the high quantum of use of the bark of this tree species by the Indian herbal industry (>2000 M.T. per year), it seems highly improbable that any significant proportion of such large quantity of bark could be obtained from this species, which exists only as an avenue tree and is not seen with a sizeable wild or planted population in India.
Its vernacular names are Asoka (Hindi), Asoka, Himapuspa (Sanskrit), Asoka тага (Kannada), Asokam (Malayalam), Asoka maram (Tamil) and Asokamu (Telugu). This herb is endangered (Karnataka) Ale, d ver. 2.3 and critically endangered (Orissa) A2c, d ver. 3.1 of the I.U.C.N. red list categories and criteria (Patwardhan et al. 2014). Globally the species occurs wild only in the Indian subcontinent and in Sri Lanka. Within India its wild population is found in Karnataka, Orissa, Goa and sporadically in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Meghalaya and Mizoram. Annual domestic consumption of Asoka chal (bark) by herbal industry was estimated at 2000 M.T. for the year 2014-2015 (Goraya and Ved 2017). It is, however, reportedly substituted/adulterated with plant materials obtained from Humboldtia vahliana Wight (Caesalpiniaceae) (N. Sasidharan, K.F.R.I., personal communication), Shorea robusta Gaertn. (Dipterocarpaceae) and Mallotus nudifiorus (L.) Kulju & Welzen (Euphorbiaceae) (Noorunnisa Begum et al. 2014).
In Situ Conservation
Karnataka State Forest Department in collaboration with F.R.L.H.T. has established Kollur M.P.C.A. in Udupi which harbors wild populations of this species.