Education centre > The Genesis of the Medicinal Plants Conservation Network (MPCN)
The Genesis of the Medicinal Plants Conservation Network (MPCN)
Contributed by G. Hariramamurthi, Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions, No. 50, MSH Layout, Anandnagar, Bangalore-560024, India
A Living Tradition
Although India's medical heritage is many centuries old, it is an evolving and living tradition. Today, millions of people in villages, towns and cities across the country, depend upon the traditional medical systems. Around 8000 species of medicinal plants are used in our health traditions, across the length and breadth of the country.
Unfortunately, these rich medical traditions have become marginalised in recent times. This is so because of various social, economic and political factors and not because the traditions in themselves are medically inefficient.
The Urgency to Conserve
Due to the rapid degradation and loss of natural habitats, juxtaposed with the over harvesting of some species, much of the biological wealth that is so intrinsically important to traditional systems of medicine has been destroyed or become endangered.
Today, there is an urgency to conserve India's medicinal plants. Although the point is not sufficiently understood, it is important to note that it is only a sound conservation strategy that can promote a backbone to a robust cultivation program. The latest global Red-list of plants brought out by The World Conservation Union (IUCN) presents a shocking picture: nearly 34 000 species or 12.5% of the world’s flora is facing extinction. Based on these figures, it is reasonable to estimate that around 1000 of India's 8000 medicinal plant species are also threatened. Threat Assessment studies carried out in recent years have placed about 200 species on the Red-list. If urgent conservation action is not taken immediately, we stand in danger of irretrievably losing our priceless heritage.
The Genesis of the Medicinal Plants Conservation Network
Since 1993, a major medicinal plant conservation project in southern India has been underway with the State Forest Departments of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Research Institutes and leading NGOs as the key players. Over 50 medicinal plant conservation sites have been established in the three states, across different agro- climatic regions, so that the entire diversity of medicinal plants of the region is conserved. This initiative of conserving wild medicinal plant genetic resources is the first of its kind in India. It is being coordinated by the Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), Bangalore.
The Medicinal Plants Conservation Network (MPCN) was created out of the need to formalise this pioneering conservation effort, and to link the conservation programmes initiated five years ago to the needs of users. The collective efforts of FRLHT, the State Forest Departments, Research Institutes and NGOs, can provide enormous mutual benefits, as well as services to both non-commercial and commercial end-users of medicinal plants.
MPCN Conservation Sites
Medicinal Plant Conservation Areas (MPCAs)
Medicinal Plant Development Areas (MPDAS) and NTFP sites
Medicinal Plant Conservation Parks (MPCPS)
MPCN'S Commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Indian Biodiversity Act
The Draft Bio-diversity Act of India based on CBD guidelines regulates access to native plant genetic material and traditional knowledge of plants for certain commercial purposes without the consent of the notified authorities specified in the act, and suitable benefit sharing arrangements with local communities. In this context, MPCN will encourage its members to implement the provisions of the Indian Bio-diversity Act.
MPCN members have made considerable progress in the conservation of medicinal plants, via community participation activities. The in situ conservation programme initiated by the network is reported to be the most cost-effective way of conserving inter and intra specific diversity of medicinal plants. Around 1500 species of medicinal plants, including 76 Red-listed species, are being conserved in and outside their natural habitats. The medicinal plants conservation efforts are being initiated in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
In India, 90% of common ailments are reported to have local solutions based on local health traditions that use locally available medicinal plants. With the difficulty of resource mobilisation encountered by the providers of organised Public Health Control (PHC) services based on western medicine, the PHC has not been able to deliver ‘health for all’ in the country. It is also reported that these organised PHC services have been able to effectively cover only 30% of population.
In the light of above, the programme of conservation of medicinal plants and revitalisation of local health traditions has launched a Green Health Campaign. This is a strategy to promote the use of self-help methods through training programmes for local community members based on local health traditions that could lead to sustainable health care in PHC.
Green Health Campaign's slogan, 'Medicinal Plants in Every Backyard - Primary Health Care in Every Home' is intended to promote the use of local plants and local knowledge for primary health care, through training on the use of medicinal plants by self-help methods. The household herbal gardens, community herbal gardens, farm herbal gardens and sacred herbal gardens are promoted as individual and collective initiatives by the local communities to grow the medicinal plants that could be utilised to meet their PHC requirements, as and when required.
MPCN's members have established 23 nurseries, which are today multiplying about 550 species to meet the requirements of local communities.
A research team engaged in the following areas of work supports the conservation programme:
Educational Materials and Activities
The communication strategy for engendering local community support for the conservation programme involves the use of a wide range of media that the local communities are familiar with, and which have the power to communicate the messages to the target groups. These are:
Current Activities of the MPCN
The MPCN Secretariat brings out a quarterly newsletter GeneNET for its members. A biannual conference of the network is organised to share and exchange experiences amongst members. On this occasion, an exhibition is also organised by MPCN members to inform the wider public of the activities of the network, including a display of MPCN members' products and publications. MPCN has a policy of inviting representatives of conservation organisations and others interested in MPCN to this meeting. MPCN also promotes state-level conferences of Nattu Vaidyas (folk healers) and women's green health organisations and medicinal plant exhibitions.
The Medicinal Plants Conservation Network has a Steering Committee, representing its members, which meets once a year to give direction to its activities. The Steering Committee decides on policies, services, budgets, programmes and projects that should be promoted via the MPCN Secretariat and MPCN members, so that individual member organisations and the network as a whole can become socially useful.
Information available to the public via the MPCN network
Membership of the Network
Primary Members of the MPCN are those organisations that are actually engaged in community based activities related to conservation and sustainable utilisation of medicinal plants.
Associate Members of the MPCN are the individuals, groups and organisations who are interested in medicinal plant conservation. Associate members include all potential medicinal plant user groups like urban and rural households, women's organisations, government departments, ISM physicians and their associations, research institutes, industry, NGOs, development aid agencies and schools and colleges.
Plants for Life: Medicinal Plants Under Threat
BGCI has published the findings of a year-long investigation into the state of medicinal plants around the world.
India - Bangalore