Government intervention in focal areas of Traditional System of Medicine
In Indian traditional system of medicine, knowledge about the drugs is largely centered on plants. At present, about 90% collection of medicinal plants is from wild sources and 70% of the plant collections involve destructive harvesting. Due to this, many useful plant species are becoming endangered or threatened. This section examines the rules and regulations put forth by the Indian government in protecting these raw materials for herbal drugs. It focuses on what type of legislative framework has been provided for specifically safeguarding the national interests and whether their constant evolution can be expected to be of benefit or detriment to Indian herbal sector.
India is one of the richest countries in the world as regards genetic resource of medicinal and aromatic plants. It constitutes 11% of total known world flora though its total land mass occupies only 2.0% of the globe. India has 15 agro-climatic zones, 47,000 different plant species. Medicinal plants, as a group, comprise approximately 15,000 species and account for about 32% of all the higher flowering plant species of India. Out of these the Indian systems of medicine have identified 1,500 medicinal plants, of which 500 species are generally used in the preparation of drugs. While in modern system of medicine, the world over, 105 plants provide the basic raw material out of which only 40 plants are exploited in India. The medicinal plants contribute 80% of the raw materials used in the preparation of drugs.
With majority of population subscribing to herbal drugs there is a boom in indigenous medicinal sector. At present, about 90% collection of medicinal plants is from the wild sources and 70% of the plant collections involve destructive harvesting. Due to this, many useful plant species are becoming endangered or threatened.
The government is presently emphasizing on two basic essentials i.e. firstly on conservation, secondly on cultivation so as to increase the production of raw materials without destroying the natural habitat. Rather than encouraging collection from the wild habitat, promotion of cultivation of high demand and low availability rare plants is being advocated and lastly with rekindling in the demand for traditional medicines globally there is a huge potential in this sector & India has to take big steps to capitalize it and that too without compromising on the quality of the product.
The first and the most crucial aspect in present scenario of traditional medicine system is to conserve our already depleted resources. It’s not that by restricting harvesting from natural habitats we are conserving our resources. “Conservation” in itself is a broad field which includes preservation, maintenance, sustainable utilization, restoration, and enhancement of the natural environment. We have to save the plant species by keeping their gene pool intact and maintained with all the wild qualities retained.
According to WHO report, as many as 80% of the world's people depend on traditional medicine for their primary health care needs and the greater part of traditional therapy involves the use of plants, plant extracts or their active principles. With the widespread increase in the demand of phytomedicines, there is a recent surge in extensive harvesting and collection of plant species.
This great surge in use of medicinal plants as a source for drugs has been based on the fact that they are natural, with no side effects on their intake and they will be available on sustainable basis. But this is not true. With demand increasing and supply of raw material diminishing, there are no concerted efforts in checking the overexploitation of plants. So that in near future medicinal plants will become either rare or extinct.
In the light of this situation, WHO, IUCN, and WWF, convened an International Consultation on the conservation of medicinal plants in March 1988 "The Chiang Mai Declaration – Saving Lives by Saving Plants"– which affirmed the importance of medicinal plants and called on the United Nations, its agencies and Member States, as well as other international organizations, to take action for the conservation of medicinal plants. Later on February 16-19, 1998 an International Conference on Medicinal Plants for Survival entitled, "Medicinal Plants: A Global Heritage" was held in Bangalore which was a sequel to Chiang-Mai Declaration held a decade ago. The Bangalore conference affirmed that medicinal plants can save lives, livelihoods and cultures, provided that the plants themselves are saved.
The raw materials for these traditional systems are largely native plant species growing in the forests (about 95%). So in order to maintain a sustainable supply of the raw materials from the forests, overharvesting has to be stopped and conservation of forests has to be done. But there are no separate policies or regulations for conserving medicinal plants in India. Their conservation is generally covered under existing laws pertaining to forestry. Government of India has promulgated various acts for conservation of forests:
a) Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 with amendments made in 1988, was an act to provide for the conservation of forests and for matters connected therewith. It extended to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir and came into force on the 25th day of October, 1980. It put a restriction on the dereservation of forests or on the use of forest land for non-forest purposes which included the cultivation of tea, coffee, spices, rubber, palms, oil-bearing plants, horticultural crops or medicinal plants.
b) The Central Government through the Ministry of Environment and Forests under its National Forest Policy, 1988 the forest and wild life acts provides a regulatory framework for conservation and protection of forests and wildlife which include medicinal plants. In section 4.6 Tribal People and Forests, it states that special attention should be paid for protection, regeneration and optimum collection of minor forest produce along with institutional arrangements for the marketing of such produce.
c) The National Bio-diversity Act, 2002 regulates access to forest resources including medicinal plants. In Chapter II – Regulation of Access to Biological Diversity, section 7 under the heading “Prior intimation to State Biodiversity Board for obtaining biological resource for certain purposes” it states that
“No person, who is a citizen of India or a body corporate, association or organization which is registered in India, shall obtain any biological resource for commercial utilization, or bio-survey and bio-utilization for commercial utilization except after giving prior intimation to the State Biodiversity Board concerned: “Provided that the provisions of this section shall not apply to the local people and communities of the area, including growers and cultivators of biodiversity, and vaids and hakims, who have been practicing indigenous medicine.” ”
d) There are also guidelines notified to conserve specific medicinal plants listed under either Indian red data book, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) and the negative list of exports notified by Government of India.
e) There are also schemes (in situ conservation) for supporting projects on conservation of some specific medicinal plants by setting up Medicinal Plants Conservation Areas (MPCAs) which are primarily located in forest areas
Foundation for Revitalization of Local health Traditions (FRLHT) a registered Public trust and charitable Society has been working on revitalization of Indian system of medicines since its inception in 1993. One of its thrust areas is conservation of natural resources used by ISM. It has coordinated the country’s in-situ conservation programme by setting up a network of MPCA across 5 states with community participation. It has also undertaken botanical and ecological surveys to understand the distribution and pattern of native medicinal plants and especially those of conservation concern such that a participatory management methodology could be formulated to research the species recovery plan and for a sustainable harvest from wild.
f) The medicinal plants present in the protected areas like national parks and sanctuaries are also accorded protection under the Wild Life (Protection Act), 1972.
g) The Botanical Survey of India carries out surveys and also conserves rare and threatened medicinal plants in its gardens.
h) The scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (recognition of forest rights) act, 2006
Corollary to Forests Right Act, 2006
The FRA, 2006 and its effect on medicinal flora is debatable. Reactions of various academicians & environmentalists to the tribal act have been varied. Many of them applaud while others are opposed to it. The major opposition to the bill is largely the concern on the preservation of wild life. What about the medicinal flora in the forests? It seems that nobody thought on those lines. Moreover the escalating demands and diminishing supply have resulted in exorbitant pricing of medicinal herbs. In consequence it has attracted many into this trade of collection from the forests thereby depleting the herbal wealth. And this act in a way will give free access to the flora. Some sections of the act pertaining to this aspect are:
- Chapter II which states forest rights of forest dwelling scheduled tribes and traditional forest dwellers: i.e.
- Section 3(1)(c) right of ownership, access to collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries. Where minor forest produce includes all non-timber forest produce of plant origin including bamboo, brush wood, stumps, cane, tusser, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers and the like.
- Section 3(1)(d) Other community rights of uses or entitlements such as fish and other products of water bodies, grazing (both settled or transhumant) and traditional seasonal resource access of nomadic or pastoralist communities.
- Section 3(1)(k) Right of access to biodiversity and community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity.
- One more dimension to this bill is that the basic unit for implementing the act is the Gram Sabha which has the authority for vesting forest rights. Chapter IV stating about the authorities to vest forest rights in forest dwelling ST and other traditional forest dwellers and procedure thereof puts it in
- Section 6(1) that the Gram Sabha will be the authority to initiate the process for determining the nature and extent of individual or community forest rights or both, that may be given to forest dwelling schedule tribes and other forest dwellers within the local limits of its jurisdiction under this act by receiving claims, consolidating and verifying them and preparing a map delineating the area of each recommended claim in such a manner as may be prescribed for exercise of such rights….
The Example of Uttrakhand
In Uttarakhand the organization “Jila Sahkari Bheraj Sangh "operational in every district of the state has the responsibility for collection of raw medicinal plants parts from wild areas. It is collecting herbal plants through unskilled and unqualified labors which are quite incompetent for the job as they lack proper knowledge of method of collection resulting in destructive harvesting of many economically important and highly demanded medicinal plants. If this practice is not curbed soon then the day is not far when the entire medicinal flora will come under endangered category. Therefore it is professed that a relook on the bill is required.
Cultivation of medicinal plants is also of critical importance to offset the uncontrolled collection of large quantities leading to destruction of many forest medicinal plants. It is the only method of choice for large term management and ex situ conservation of medicinal plants. The cultivation can be done through herbal gardens, nurseries, cultivation in fields, tissue culture etc. But to cultivate quality material certain regulations have to be followed otherwise situations like banning of Indian herbal medicines by Canada government (on the basis of the study report published by JAMA accusing Indian ayurvedic drugs of containing high levels of toxic metal contents) would arise recurrently. Steps need to be taken before the damage has been done.
The XI five year plan also gives emphasis on developing herbal sector. Around 6,000 species of medicinal plants are documented in published medical and ethno-botanical literature. Wild populations of several hundreds of these species are under threat in their natural habitats. In the Tenth Plan, a National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB) was established for supporting conservation of gene pools and large scale cultivation of medicinal(five year plan). However, there have been no official efforts so far to conserve these resources. The key challenges in the Eleventh Five Year Plan are to conserve gene pools of red listed species, support large-scale cultivation of species that are in high trade, involve forestry sector in plantation of medicinal tree species, and establish modern processing zones for post-harvest management of medicinal plants.
The key interventions and strategies formulated in the Eleventh Five Year Plan are:
- Ensuring conservation of medicinal plants, gene pools as well as promoting cultivation of species in high trade, and establishment of medicinal plants processing zones.
- Strengthening regulatory mechanism for ensuring quality control, R&D, and processing technology involving accredited laboratories in the government and non-government sector
Various central institutions, state agricultural universities and NGO’s are involved in R&D activities related to improvement of cultivation practices of herbal plants. Some of them are:
- Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP): A CSIR laboratory dedicated to the cause of medicinal and aromatic plant research, cultivation and business. It has undertaken multiple projects like improved varieties & agro-technologies, genetic improvement & breeding efforts, integrated nutrient and pest management, gene bank status and bio-village mission for spreading the cultivation and increasing productivity of medicinal and aromatic plants. (Website: http://www.cimap.res.in/)
- National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI): a premier plant based multidisciplinary, state-of-art national R&D Centre of CSIR. (Website: http://www.nbri-lko.org/index.html)
- Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM): One of the areas of its research includes standardizing the agro technology of Medicinal and Aromatic plants and their propagation techniques. (Website: http://www.rrljammu.org/index1.htm )
National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR): Is the nodal agency for exchange, quarantine, collection, conservation, evaluation and the systematic documentation of plant genetic resources (http://www.nbpgr.ernet.in/).
State Agricultural Universities: Among the 41 state agricultural universities 34 are working in some way or the other on improvement of agronomic technologies of local medicinal plants.
The major bottleneck felt in R&D area is the linkage problem between the institutes and universities. The research outcome is generally not shared or discussed which sometimes lead to overlapping of research areas and duplication of work. Though we have sufficient capability and competence with regard to qualified manpower and state of the art infrastructure for R&D in medicinal plant sector, but still a much needed aspect to be worked on is the bridging of the institutes. This will not only restrict duplication & save time but will also enhance research at a level higher to the previously concluded one.
National Medicinal Plant Board (NMPB) on the basis of XI plan has initiated a Central Sector Scheme for Conservation, Development and Sustainable Management of Medicinal Plants (Website: http://nmpb.nic.in/index.php).
Some regulations and incentives provided to encourage cultivation are:
Regulations: To ensure and enhance the quality of ASU medicines, the Government of India has scripted a GAP manual. The guidelines for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) seek to lay down a cultivation programme designed to ensure optimal yield in terms of both quality and quantity of any crop intended for health purposes. It puts forth a standard for production of raw material that goes in to the making of the ASU medicines and standardizes the production processes from farm to factory.
GAP is basically a referral document pertaining to entire cultivation process, which has to be followed by a commercial cultivator of medicinal plants. This agronomic protocol contains sections regarding soil & climatic conditions, quality of seeds and propagation material, crop management (protection from pests & diseases, control of weeds) and post harvest management. But a detailed cultivation process of each medicinal plant individually is still in the making.
GCP (Good Collection Practices), is a document stating the judicious way of harvesting the medicinal plants from wild habitats. Though WHO has a manual of GACP (Good Agricultural and Collection Practices), a combined document for agronomical practices and collection practices; but India has to write its own one suitable for the diverse agro climatic conditions as well as varied species of native medicinal plants.
For ensuring that Good Agricultural Practices are followed strictly during the cultivation programme, National Medicine Plant Board plays the coordinator between the various ministries, departments of central and state governments.
Incentives: NMPB since its inception has been granting incentives in the form of funds to farmers and NGO’s who want to take up cultivation of medicinal plants. During 2006-07 it sanctioned all over India around 1,805 projects costing Rs. 4,044 lakhs as compared to 1,222 costing Rs. 2,954 laks in 2005-06.
Fig.1: Financial assistance sanctioned by NMPB during 2005-06 & 2006-07
On having an overview on the government initiatives in focal areas of traditional medicine system i.e. conservation and cultivation of herbal resources, it seems that the primary focus in herbal sector should be to assess the medicinal flora abundance and then on emphasizing improved agro-technologies and that too preferably organic in nature. By encouraging organic cultivation, a way to simulate the wild conditions in which they prefer to grow, will not only reduce the chances of increased levels of toxic/ metallic content (which are basically a result of excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers) but it’s likelihood that it will retain the original curing powers. Other than this a manual on collection practices from wild has to be prepared urgently and to be distributed
It is generally seen that large production units procure raw materials in bulk and store them till they are consumed. An example can be taken of amla (Emblica officinalis), exceedingly used in various herbal preparations. Lab studies have shown that there is an association of mycoflora with amla fruits specifically with various storage fungi. Moreover it has also been corroborated that the frequently found species of Aspergillus are aflatoxin producing fungi. So if such an infected material is used for manufacturing the drugs, the effects it can cause can be visualized!!!!
to state departments. Another area of focus is storage. There should be stringent rules on storing of raw materials according to the shelf life period. As different plant species have different shelf life, the storage conditions & period will also have a marked effect on the quality of the product. And lastly, in current scenario when medicinal plants are declining from their habitat because of over collection from the wild, is Forest Rights Act 2006 practicable? Won’t it accelerate the depletion of already endangered plants? Can Gram Sabhas strictly keep a check on overharvesting? Shouldn’t a clause restricting the collection of medicinal plants by tribal people be incorporated?
With these questions in mind it can be construed that improper and unscientific methods of collection, over and indiscriminate exploitation, shrinking homes of the herbs, their conservation and sustainable use are the major problems plaguing this sector. Indeed the government is catching up at solving these existing problems of the herbal industry but with universal interest and increasing potential & prospects in herbal industry, some urgent initiatives need to be taken otherwise the situation will deteriorate further.
Hamilton, A. (2003) Medicinal plants and conservation: issues and approaches [online]. UK, WWF, 2003. Available from Internet: http://www.activeremedy.org.uk/pages/files/other/medicine_plant_conservation.pdf
NESAC- Forestry. Agriculture Planning and Information Bank (APIB) site, developed by North Eastern Space Application Centre. Available from internet:http://megapib.nic.in/soil_conservation_forestry.htm
National Medicinal Plant Board website. Available from internet: http://nmpb.nic.in/index
XI Five year plan 2007-2012 Vol II Social Sector. Planning Commission, Government of India. P.57-127. Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Available from internet: http://planningcommission.nic.in/plans/planrel/fiveyr/welcome.html
Ministry of Environment and Forests. Website:http://envfor.nic.in/
Agriculture and information bank (APIB). Soil conservation and forestry. Website: http://megapib.nic.in/soil_conservation_forestry.htm