Nepal contains diverse physiographic and climatic variation along the elevation gradient and harbors different ecosystems with valuable floral wealth. The varying altitude of the terrain has given rise to plant diversity including varieties of species. More than 9,000 species of flowering plants are estimated among them about 10 % of species are reported with medicinal and aromatic properties. Various parts of these annuals, biennials and perennial plants have been used as medicines, perfumes, and food. More than 75% Nepalese people still depend on the herbal plants as a local source of medicine for their primary health care. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) contribute to the local and national economy and become the source of the cash for the rural livelihood at the hard time such as when they feel ill. The financial contribution made by Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs), especially medicinal plants, is much higher than the timber products. A study shows that Nepalese NTFP processors are unable to run processing plants year round because of a shortage of raw materials, which mainly results from the lack of wholesale collection systems and due to lack of the raw material in the offseason. Thus it is imperative to scale the MAPs cultivation to larger level through commercialization of the important medicinal and aromatic plant that are commonly available in the local community. This study aims to assess and evaluate the number of commercially important medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) found in the trade and explore their distribution pattern and conservation measures
Nepal is rich in both biological and cultural diversity. It is located in the central part of main Himalayan range and is floristically characterized by the presence of six adjoining floristic regions, namely central Asiatic in the North, Sino-Japanese in the North East, South East Asia-Malaysian in the South East, Indian in the South Sudano-Zambian in the South-West and Irano-Turranean in the West. The altitudinal variation ranges from about 60m to the top of the world (8,848 m) has made Nepal a rich country in plant bio-diversity. It has 35 forest types, 75 vegetation units and 118 ecosystems. Although the country represents only 0.1% of the world’s land area, it supports a comparatively high percentage of earth biodiversity. Nepal is ranked 9th among the Asian countries for its floral wealth as more than 9,000 species of flowering plants are estimated. Among total floral wealth of Nepal, about 10 % of species are reported with medicinal and aromatic properties. Various parts of these annuals, biennials and perennial plants have been used as medicines, perfumes, and food. (Pandey, 1961) for the first time reported 73 medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs). Then, Department of Medicinal Plants (DMP, 1970) reported 483 species; Malla and Shyaka (1984) reported 690 species of MAPs in Nepal. Manandhar (2002) has reported ethno-botanical information of 1,500 plant species, majority of them have medicinal value. Before implementation of master plan for the forestry sector (1988), this group of plants has been termed as minor forest products and these were relatively neglected from the state. Later, due to their high volume and commercial value are kept out of minor. They were recognized as important because of their diverse uses and high commercial value. Every year thousands of collectors and gatherers of hilly region sustain their livelihood from the collection and sales of MAPs. The sustainable collection of MAPs can provide valuable cash for rural people therefore government should focus to this sector for research and conservation to bring out it in to competitive world.
Although, the collection and trade of MAPs have been a source of income for rural people of Nepal, the literatures concerning assessment of commercial species, distribution pattern and their conservation measures are not well addressed. There is lacking on quantitative assessment of their natural population and the feasibility study on their cultivation in different eco-logical regions of the country. Natural forests are decreasing due to ever increasing human population. Many species of MAPs are already threatened from collection pressure. The natural populations of commercially important MAPs might have disappeared or might be under the serious risk of extinction, so it is urgent to explore their patterns and find out factors controlling upon the patterns, so that effective conservation measures can be implemented. At this context cultivation of these medicinally important herbs can preserve them from becoming extinct and at the same time provide good money per cultivated land.
Nepal is gifted with over 700 species of medicinal herbs. About 1624 species are of ethno botanical importance and 100 of them are commercially important for trade and marketing. 90 % of Non-Timber Forest Products are exported to India in raw form. Amala, Atis, Chiraito, Tejpat, Guchhi chyau, Jatamansi, Jhyau, Kutki, Pipla, Ritha, Sugandhawal, Sugandha Kokila and Timur are the major MAPs in such trade to India. Those are especially Medicicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs). 30 species already selected by the national level Herbs and NTFPs Coordination Committee (HNCC) out of which, 12 MAPs are prioritized for cultivation and researches as shown in the table below:
Asparagus racemosus Wild
Cinnamomum glaucescens (Nees) Hand.-Mazz
Dactylorhiza hatagirea (D.Don) Soo
Nardostachys grandiflora DC
Neopicrorhiza scrophulariiflora (Pennell) Hong
Piper longum Linn
Rauvolfia serpentina (L.) Benth. ex Kurz
Swertia chirayita (Roxb. ex Fleming) Karsten
Taxus wallichiana Zucc
Tinospora sinensis (Lour.) Merr
Valeriana jatamansii Jones
Zanthoxylum armatum DC
Source: (Ministry of Forests & Soil Conservation, Department of Plant Resources, 2012) Ministry of Forests & Soil Conservation, Department of Plant Resources (2012)
In Nepal, MAPs are collected for the earning hand cash. The particular season of herbs is favorable time for collection and the trade of the MAPs. Rural peoples of hills with the knowledge of MAPs used to collect them leaving their entire job aside and even in some areas it is been noticed the holidays in the schools for the collection of the important herbs of medicinal value. The factor pushing this act is the handsome money they get from the collection and selling of those herbs which is sufficient to run rural livelihood for the next 6 months. That’s why the collection and trade of the MAPs become indispensable for the rural peoples of the hills and mountains in Nepal.
Annually huge amount of the trade exit for the medicinal and aromatic plants which are mainly (about 90%) exported to the India which is the known as the centre for the trade of the raw and processed MAPs among Asian countries. In the fiscal year 2066/67 21,71,522.3 kg of NTFPs collected from national forests which amounted revenue of Rs. 2,08,50,762.4 in Nepal.
Many socioeconomic researches stated that collection and marketing of the valuable herbs in the mountain region of the Nepal has significantly helped the rural people to alleviate their poverty to a considerable extent. Further literatures have clearly mentioned that cultivation of the medicinally important herbs and their commercialization can be beneficial in raising their socioeconomic status of the rural people by raising their income. Besides that it adds the employment opportunity for the people and provides a fabulous side job to lift their income. This fact is supported by the study conducted by FNCCI titled “Wholesale Market Assessment-NTFP” showed that Nepalese NTFP processors are unable to run processing plants year round because of a shortage of raw materials, which mainly results from the lack of wholesale collection systems.
It is well known that its matter of challenge and opportunity for government to increase the MAPs cultivated area since most of the farmers are small land holders who primarily do subsistence mode of farming. Cereal and vegetable dominates the land most of the time since it provides a complete food for them. Integrated farming that is rooted in our society has many advantages than sole cropping. The farmers are mostly oriented toward such type of farming that could provide early returns with minimal risk. They comparatively have less innovation adoption in the field due to many factors like little ability for investment, illiteracy, etc. Thus it’s a matter of challenge to persuade peoples to adopt MAPs cultivation. But physiographical feature of Nepal creates an opportunity to enhance the cultivation of the medicinally important herbs due to many valuable reasons. Nepal is generally divisible into three ecological belts; lower plain land (Terai 17 %), middle mid hills (64%) and upper high hills (19%). Terai is known as the ‘grain basket’ of the country since it shares most of the agriculture production. It also has fertile soil that is suitable for agriculture and is feeding major population of the country. Mid hills and high hills in the upper part of the country has bottlenecked infrastructural development due uneven land with relatively less preferable soil (rocky) for the farming. In Nepal there is huge wasted or fellow land that can be utilized to cultivate the medicinally important herbs. Most of the lands in the mid hills remain fallow due to uneven structure where MAPS cultivation seems to have a good scope. Cultivation of the MAPs support the conservation of the forest area and different plants that in term results a sustainable agriculture.
Country possesses huge diversity of the plants that are valuable in terms of the medicinal use and essential oils extraction. The promotion of the cultivation of those high valued herbs or plants can provide the farmers handsome money. These can be value added for different other product. The government and private processing center will operate round the year if they get sufficient raw material inside the country. This will further enhance the cultivation of those high valued crops and will help in industrialization.