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Medicinal plant conservation

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Title: Medicinal plant conservation  
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Subject: Traditional Medicine, Siddha medicine, Traditional Hausa medicine, Nganga, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust
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Medicinal plant conservation

Medicinal plant conservation strategies need to be understood and planned for based on an understanding of indigenous knowledge and practices.[1] Many drugs contain herbal ingredients, and it has been said that 70–80% of the world's population relies on some form of non-conventional medicine[2] and around 25–40% of all prescription drugs contain active ingredients derived from plants in the United States alone.[3] Many countries rely on these medicinal plants for the health and well being of its population,[4] but the market demand has led to an increased pressure on the natural resources that lend to the production of some of these plants.[5] The most serious proximate threats when extracting medicinal plants generally are habitat loss, habitat degradation, and over harvesting.[6] Developing markets for natural products, particularly those that are harvested from the wild, can trigger a demand that cannot be met by available or legal supplies and demands a conservation initiative [7] so the local populations are not exploited, causing more damage to their resources.[8] Many times populations are taken advantage of for their resources and knowledge, which can often be for financial gain.[9] Conservation of medicinal plants in its biocultural perspective not only implies conservation of biodiversity but also places an equal emphasis on conservation of cultural diversity.[10]

Around the globe

Asia represents one of the most important centers of knowledge with regard to the use of plant species for treatment of various diseases. Kunwar states, it has been estimated that the Himalayan region harbors over 10,000 species of medicinal and aromatic plants, supporting the livelihoods of about 600 million people living in the area. In Nepal they use a traditional healing system that is called Ayurveda, which is influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism’s central ideas of balance in life. High altitude medicinal plants provide quality products, and this is the reason why they are often the first choice of local users as immediate therapy and by pharmaceutical companies as precious ingredients. When it comes to profits made in the communities up to 50% of the Nepal’s rural household’s income is derived from commercial collection of medicinal and aromatic plants.[11]

KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa community of Mnoqobokazi has high unemployment rates in the area and reliance on subsistence agriculture and wild produce is still high. Socioeconomic factors such as low education levels and lack of access to western health care have been cited as important reasons for reliance on indigenous medicine in South Africa. Both villagers and healers in the area would cultivate one or more species because they could only be found far away, or were frequently used, or had to be fresh when used, or they were planted as protection against witchcraft. Also there were ten people from Mnqobokazi, mainly women, who harvested plants on a commercial basis to conserve. An interview with a conservation officer at the Wetland Park claimed that harvesting of medicinal plants was not a problem in this part as it was further north.[12] In other parts of South Africa the most frequently used medicinal plants are slow-growing forest trees, in which the bark and underground parts are mainly the parts utilized. Because there is a high demand for such resources, the trees are becoming endangered and a lot of the collection is unrestricted. Regulations are now being placed on some of the resources that originally had been exploited and many schools and research facilities are working together to come up with new ways to foster their beloved trees and still manage to get what is needed from the trees as well by proposing the idea of substituting the bark or underground parts with leaves of the same plant.[13]

Samoa has had a great influence on western medicine when it comes to finding a cure for HIV/AIDS. New research has shown that the isolation of prostratin, found in the bark of the Samoan mamala tree, from Homalanthus nutans has led to the extreme potency against HIV-1. Both the National Cancer Institute and Brigham Young University have guaranteed to return to the Samoan people a significant portion of any royalties. Paul Alan Cox, an American ethnobotanist, raised money based on awareness of environmental degradation due to logging, in order to protect the 30,000-acre (120 km2) lowland forest of Falealupo village on the island of Savai'i. The Swedish Society for the Conservation of Nature established three new indigenously controlled preserves. Controlled preserves cause controversy because in traditional Polynesian societies, land, including the natural plant and animal populations, which occupied it, were viewed as sacred and an ancestral inheritance. Western approaches to conservation on indigenous land and within an indigenous community must collaborate and understand indigenous knowledge systems in order to conserve cultural identity. Paul Cox stated that, “the loss of these indigenous knowledge systems may yet prove to be one of the greatest tragedies of our age”. The U.S National Park Service officials, the American Samoan Government, and the traditional chiefs (matai) and orators of the villages of Tafua had agreed to lease their lands for 50 years to the U.S National Park Service in order to protect American Samoa’s rain forests. The Tafua rain forest received funding from the Swedish International Development Authority, which was used to secure water supply, improve roads, and used for assistance in the development of village-based environmental tourism in Tafua. Cox explains, “all parties to these agreements agree that any development of tourism must be village initiatives, rather than foreign initiatives, and must be carefully planned and controlled so that the Samoan culture in these areas is not jeopardized”.[14][15]


  1. ^ Berkes, Fikret; Turner, Nancy J. (2006). "Knowledge, Learning and the Evolution of Conservation Practice for Social-Ecological System Resilience". Human Ecology 34 (4): 479–494.  
  2. ^ Arceusz, Agnieszka; Radecka, Iwona; Wesolowski, Marek (2010). "Identification of diversity in elements content in medicinal plants belonging to different plant families". Food Chemistry 120: 52–58.  
  3. ^ Endangered Plants and Ecosystems-Plant Conservation Derived Medications
  4. ^ UNESCO(1996) Culture and Health Orientation Texts-World Decade for Cultural Development. 1998-1997, document CLT/DOC/PRO-1996, Paris France p. 129
  5. ^ Madhav Karvi and Radhika Johan. The Role of Medicinal Plants Industry in Fostering Biodiversity Conservation and Rural Development. IDRC
  6. ^ Hamilton, Alan 2003 Medicinal plants and conservation: issues and approaches. Paper presented to International Plants Conservation Unit World Wildlife Foundation, UK.
  7. ^ Timothy M. Swanson (28 July 1998). Intellectual property rights and biodiversity conservation: an interdisciplinary analysis of the values of medicinal plants. Cambridge University Press. pp. 45–62.  
  8. ^ Angela Leony and Robert Voeks (2004). "Forgetting the Forest: Assessing Medicinal Plant Erosion in Eastern Brazil". Economic Botany 58: S294–S306.  
  9. ^ Delgado, Gian Carlo (2002). "Biopiracy and Intellectual Property as the Basis for Biotechnological Development: The Case of Mexico". International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 16 (2): 297–318.  
  10. ^ Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (1997). Medicinal plants for forest conservation and health care. Food & Agriculture Org. pp. 87–99.  
  11. ^ Kunwar, RM; Bussmann, RW (2008). "Ethnobotany in the Nepal Himalaya". Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine 4: 24.  
  12. ^ Dahlberg, Annika C.; Trygger, Sophie B. (2009). "Indigenous Medicine and Primary Health Care: The Importance of Lay Knowledge and Use of Medicinal Plants in Rural South Africa". Human Ecology 37: 79–94.  
  13. ^ Zschocke, S; Rabe, T; Taylor, JL; Jäger, AK; Van Staden, J (2000). "Plant part substitution--a way to conserve endangered medicinal plants?". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 71 (1–2): 281–92.  
  14. ^ Paul Alan Cox and Thomas Elmqvist (1991). "Indigenous Control of Tropical Rain-Forest Reserves: An Alternative Strategy for Conservation". Ambio 20 (7): 317–321.  
  15. ^ Cox, PA (1993). "Saving the ethnopharmacological heritage of Samoa". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 38 (2–3): 181–8.  

Further reading

  • Hawkins, B. (2008) Plants for life: Medicinal plant conservation and botanic gardens Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) ISBN 1-905164-21-1
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