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Medicinal Plants Development Areas (M.P.D.A.s)

During implementation of participatory conservation projects, it is often realized that in addition to intangible benefits through implementation of M.P.C.A. programs like soil and water conservation, climate improvement and ethical values, people’s participation in medicinal plants conservation efforts will be limited if direct material benefits are not adequately provided to participating village communities. Therefore, when the D.A.N.I.D.A. project Strengthening the Medicinal Plants Resource Base in Southern India in the Context of Primary Health Care (1993 to 2004) was initiated, it was decided to take degraded forest patches near M.P.C.A.s available under Joint Forest Management guidelines as medicinal plants development areas (M.P.D.A.s) (Singh et. al. 2008).

The objective of the M.P.D.A. program was to develop a model for conservation, development and sustainable use of plant resource under participatory forest management. Therefore, this program was aimed at providing economic benefits to communities in conservation and management of the medicinal plant resources in M.P.D.A.s. A total of 12 M.P.D.A.s were established. Four were in Karnataka and eight in Tamil Nadu. The area of each M.P.D.A. ranged from 10 to 50 ha. As degraded forest areas were not available near most of the M.P.C.A.s, the M.P.D.A.s were established in areas at some distance from the M.P.C.A.s. In such cases the local communities participating in the M.P.D.A. program were different from those participating in the M.P.C.A. program. The idea behind undertaking the M.P.D.A. program w'as that this approach would be useful for adoption under the Joint Forest Management program being implemented on a large scale throughout the country (Singh et. al. 2008).

Four M.P.D.A. models were attempted. In one, degraded forest areas were taken up for eco- restoration through planting of trees and herbs of medicinal value. In the second, natural bushy vegetation w'as cleared and the cleared area planted with a variety of medicinal plants. In the third, essential oil-bearing plants already growing in the area were encouraged to grow' and enrichment planting was carried out. The material was harvested to distill oil for sale. The fourth model was tried in Tamil Nadu toward the end of project period under which areas already under Joint Forest Management were considered for augmentation and simultaneous harvesting of medicinal plants to benefit the participating village communities (Singh et. al. 2008).

The first model was found to be emphasizing eco-restoration rather than medicinal plant development and w'as too expensive to be replicable. The expected benefits to village communities were not at par w'ith the expenditure incurred. The second model suffered from several drawbacks. Clearing of natural vegetation removed the medicinal plants already growing in that area. Clearing reduced biodiversity and increased soil erosion on slopes. Clearing and planting also increased expenses and reduced net benefits to the local communities. The third model was the most successful of all the four models tried.

After the project was over, the sustainability aspect of the third M.P.D.A. attracted much attention. The Medicinal Plants Development Agency was formed in place of the M.P.D.A. management committee and a new' M.o.U. was signed between D.A.N.I.D.A. and Tamil Nadu Forest Department in August 2007 to jointly manage and sustain the M.P.D.A. Several factors contributed to the success of the third M.P.D.A. First of all, the village community participating in the M.P.D.A. already had the necessary skills in raising aromatic plants and their distillation. The members having become unemployed after the closure of the Cinchona Department were badly in need of employment w'hich was provided w'ith the establishment of the M.P.D.A. A coherent village community facilitated formation of village-level institutions for the M.P.D.A. and subsequent activities. The approach of converting the M.P.D.A. produce into high-value products like essential oils and processed herbs for marketing also contributed to the success. Abundant availability of dry Eucalyptus leaves from nearby Eucalyptus plantations free of cost for extraction of Eucalyptus oil was in fact a boon. Support and guidance provided by Tamil Nadu Forest Department and the non-governmental organization H.O.P.E. (Health of People and Environment) was also an important factor (Singh et. al. 2008).

The approach adopted in the fourth model demonstrated that by utilizing the strengths of Joint Forest Management, there was good scope for medicinal plant resource augmentation. This approach also effectively involved women’s self-help groups, micro-credit groups, local healers, non-governmental organizations and educational institutions. This approach showed great potential, but as this model was tried toward the end of project period, no definite conclusions could be drawn before the end of the project

The M.P.D.A. program aimed at compensating village communities participating in protection and management of M.P.C.A.s with some income generation from the development and harvesting of medicinal plants. The program also developed a workable model of M.P.D.A. for Joint Forest Management areas protected and managed with the involvement of local communities. This is a model that can be applied throughout the country because it ensures people’s participation in conservation and development of medicinal plants and substantially contributes to the welfare of the participating communities (Singh et. al. 2008).

Botanic Gardens

Botanic gardens conserve and propagate rare species and genetic diversity. They play an important role in ex situ conservation (Havens et al. 2006), and they can maintain the ecosystems to enhance the survival of rare and endangered plant species (Huang et al. 2002). Although living collections generally consist of only a few individuals of each species and so are of limited use in terms of genetic conservation (Yuan et al. 2010), botanic gardens have multiple unique features. They involve a wide variety of plant species grown together under common conditions, and often contain taxonomically and ecologically diverse flora (Primack and Miller-Rushing 2009). Botanic gardens can play a further role in medicinal plant conservation through the development of propagation and cultivation protocols, as well as undertaking programs of domestication and variety breeding (Maunder et al. 2001).

Threatened plant species are conserved at field germplasm banks such as I.C.A.R.-N.B.P.G.R. National Gene Bank and institutional botanical gardens such as National Botanical Research Institute (N.B.R.I.) Botanic Garden, Lucknow and Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. F.R.L.H.T.-T.D.U., Bangalore has established a unique ethnomedici- nal garden with more than 1500 native medicinal plants supported with a nursery. It conserves some of the important threatened and traded medicinal plant species (Anonymous 2020c). The Arya Vaidya Sala Herb Garden, by Arya Vaidya Sala, Kottakkal in Kerala has a demonstration garden set up in an eight-acre plot at Kottakkal and a live collection of 700 scientifically identified medicinal plants (Anonymous 2020d).

Seed Banks

Seed banks offer a better way of storing the genetic diversity of many medicinal plants ex situ than through botanic gardens, and are recommended to help preserve the biological and genetic diversity of wild plant species (Li and Pritchard 2009; Schoen and Brown 2001). The most noteworthy seed bank is the Millennium Seed Bank Project at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, Britain (Schoen and Brown 2001). It is the largest ex situ conservation program in the world, presently involving 96 countries and territories. Where possible, seeds are collected and conserved in the country of origin with duplicates being sent to this seed bank for storage. Unique taxonomic diversity exists amongst the collections which represent 365 families, 5813 genera, 36,975 species and 39,669 taxa conserved (Liu et al. 2018).

Seed banks allow relatively rapid access to plant samples for the evaluation of their properties, providing helpful information for conserving the remaining natural populations (Li and Pritchard 2009; Schoen and Brown 2001). The challenging tasks of seed banking are how to reintroduce the plant species back into the wild and how to actively assist in the restoration of wild populations (Li and Pritchard 2009). An example is a community seed bank project aimed at identifying important traditional seed varieties and orienting the agricultural community toward conserving and cultivating them (Anonymous 2020e).

Cultivation

Although wild-harvested resources of medicinal plants are widely considered more efficacious than those that are cultivated, domestic cultivation is a widely used and generally accepted practice (Gepts 2006; Joshi and Joshi 2014; Leung and Wong 2010). Cultivation provides the opportunity to use new techniques to solve problems such as toxic components, pesticide contamination, low contents of active ingredients and the misidentification of botanicals encountered in the production of medicinal plants (Raina et al. 2011).

Cultivation under controlled growth conditions can improve the yields of active compounds, which are almost invariably secondary metabolites, ensuring production stability. Cultivation practices are designed to provide optimal levels of water, nutrients, optional additives and environmental factors including temperature, light and humidity to obtain improved yields of target products (Liu et al. 2011; Wong et al. 2014). Moreover, increased cultivation decreases the harvest volume of medicinal plants, benefits the recovery of their wild resources and decreases their prices to a more reasonable range (Hamilton 2004; Larsen and Olsen 2007; Schippmann et al. 2005).

An example of cultivation is provided by Aryavaidya Sala Kottakkal of Kerala. Over 200 acres of medicinal plant estates are being maintained at Mannarghat, Kottapupram, Thrikkakara and Kottakkal, where large-scale cultivation of rare plant species is organized. These estates also support scientific activities by providing trial cultivation and maintenance of field gene banks (Anonymous 2020d).

N.M.RB. was established by the Government of India to encourage the cultivation of medicinal plants and their sustainable management, so that dependence on forests for the collection of herbs can be reduced. The primary function of the N.M.RB. is to develop a proper mechanism for coordination between various ministries, departments, organizations and implementation of support policies and programs for conservation, cultivation, trade and export of medicinal plants. N.M.RB. promotes cultivation of medicinal plants and offers support through a centrally sponsored scheme of the National Mission on Medicinal Plants (N.M.M.P.) since 2008. This support is now continuing under the National A.Y.U.S.H. Mission (N.A.M.), a flagship program launched by the Ministry of A.Y.U.S.H., Government of India during the XII Plan period. The program is being implemented in the country through state government-designated agencies. To meet the increasing demand for medicinal plants, N.M.B.P. focusses on in situ and ex situ conservation. It also promotes research and development and capacity-building through training and raises awareness through promotional activities like the creation of home and school herbal gardens. The Board also supports programs for quality assurance and standardization, by developing Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (G.A.C.P.s) (Anonymous 2020f).

 
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