Need to regulate medicinal plants sector

Medicinal plants have always been an important contribution to healthcare and livelihoods, and recently identified as among the most valuable non-wood forest products across the world. Unfortunately, harvests to meet the demand for a growing number of medicinal species are in many cases exceeding sustainable levels. Subsequently, the wild medicinal plant populations and the benefits derived there from are coming under threat. The demand for plant-based herbal products has grown exponentially during the last several decades. Pakistan is endowed with a rich wealth of medicinal plants. Herbs have always been major form of medicine in the country and presently these are becoming popular throughout the developed world. More effective co-operation among the variety of institutions concerned with the use and trade of medicinal plants is required to ensure the conservation of biodiversity and continued availability of medicinal resources. By combining indigenous knowledge and modern appropriate technology, communities and researchers can identify cultivation practices that offer new sustainable land management practices to halt desertification. Thus, communities can derive a greater share of the increasing global value of medicinal plants which will improve their quality of life. However, this is viable only if we ensure sustained teaching and research mechanism. Besides, proper laws are needed to conserve rare medicinal plants in their natural habitat and development of their production technologies. Presently, the country spends over Rs. 100 billion annually on drugs both imported and manufactured by national and multinational drug companies and out of this, 95 per cent raw material is imported. But it is a point of concern that pharmaceutical companies have not developed over the years according to resource available thus depending majorly on imported drug materials. If the local medicinal plants sector is promoted and regulated it would contribute a lot in catering the local traditional healthcare system as well as pharma companies lessening dependence on foreign drug materials. Rather the sustainable development of medicinal plant resources can earn foreign exchange. To overcome significant knowledge deficits, a global cultivation survey should be commissioned by an international organization with an aim to identify species cultivated, in which countries they are grown, volumes produced and their market values. For this, community-based small-scale cultivation enterprises need to be strengthened to enable them to compete with large-scale high-tech cultivation. Similarly, local communities can take more responsibility for sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants only if they have the choices afforded by adequate income, control over the resource and the knowledge and skills required.

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