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The Pragya Project on Conserving the Herbal Wealth of the Himalayas

The Himalayas are a storehouse of the most rare and valuable species of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs).  These are immensely valuable to the well-being to local people, who do not have access to conventional medicine.  MAPs are an integral part of local culture and used in Ayurvedic, Siddha, Unani, Tibetan and Allopathic systems of medicine.  Some species are also used to make useful products such as insecticide, incense, natural dyes, and cattle fodder.  In addition, plants are essential for the local fauna: for example root plants such as 'Kuth'  Saussurea costus are a key source of lean season sustenance for high altitude fauna such as the Bharal and the Ibex.

 

Yumgthang Valley in north Sikkim, Himalayas, alt 3,400 metres.  © Nichalp, 2004.

The region's medicinal and aromatic plants are threatened by several factors: deforestation and climatic changes in the region, over-use and destructive harvesting of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs), and an absence of measures for soil or water conservation.  Some species of MAP are traded, and demand for trade may increase the problems of unsustainable harvesting practices.
If these problems continue, then local people's ability to care for their health will decline, and other aspects of well-being will also suffer - for example the degraded land may become unable to support agriculture or livestock grazing.  This project is therefore aimed at the conservation and sustainable utlisation of the medicinal and aromatic plant wealth of the high altitude valleys and meadows of the Indian Himalayas, through multiple community-centred activities.  It is co-financed by the European Community

One of the project's key objectives is to set up a Botanical Garden in the Eastern Himalayas, with a targetted 30 species of rare and endangered medicinal and aromatic plants of the region.  As a live collection of endangered species, the garden would act provide some ex situ conservation of the threatened resources, and also enable the research into propagation and cultivation of the species.
The transfer of the resulting knowledge and agri-techniques will equip the local communities with better resource management and utilization tools, and replacing wild harvesting with cultivation of highly traded species will help to prevent the depletion of MAP species.  The botanic garden will also be used to promote knowledge and provide training in how to propagate and cultivate useful plants.  It will help support general conservation education and awareness campaigns, to encourage community stewardship for sustainable management and in situ conservation of the region's natural resources.

The Pragya Project will also be involved in many other activities, including Ethno-botanic Centres, a Cultivation Research Centre, and Education and Awareness Campaigns.  For example, more than 100 farmers are involved with Pragya and growing various herbal species.  To strengthen ties between local cultivators, Pragya is also facilitating the formation of Cooperatives of medicinal plants growers in different districts.  Another activity is to encourage Women's Home Gardens of Aromatic Plants.  Home gardens are small plots of land (200-500 m2), typically in backyards, which women can use to grow many useful products.  Local women are joining groups to undertake local-level processing and sale of the home garden produce.  Examples of the species being cultivated include Juniperus macropoda and Allium carolinianum.

More information about the Pragya Project and its many activities can be found at its website at www.pragya.org