By -B.S. Sajwan :The National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB) set up in the Department of AYUSH in November, 2000 has been responsible for supporting initiatives for conservation and cultivation of medicinal plants both in-situ and ex-situ. During the 9th and 10th Plans, the Board provided assistance to State Forest Departments and voluntary agencies for conservation of medicinal plants over an area of about 30,000 hectares.
Financial assistance was also provided to over 5,000 farmers for cultivation of medicinal plants over 40,000 hectares. Besides, a number of R&D institutions and universities were provided assistance for development of agro-techniques, training of farmers, primary collectors, tribals and others. Organisation of awareness camps, workshops and creation of school and home herbal gardens have created a large amount of interest in all sections of society towards conservation of medicinal plants and their role in healthcare.
A study of demand and supply of medicinal plants in India carried out by the Board during 2007-08 brought out alarming shortages of some of the plants used by the Ayurvedic industry. The Board, thereafter, launched special drive to invite proposals for conservation and plantation of some of the rare and endangered species in high demand from states. Of particular interest were the tree species like Sita Ashoka (Saraca asoca) – the main ingredient of Ahsokaristha (a key Ayurvedic formulation for gyaenecological disorders), Guggal (Commiphora wightii) – a thorny bush which yields gum resin and is used in more than 100 Ayurvedic preparations, and the Dashmools – used in the most widely used Ayurvedic preparation – Dashmoolarishta. The estimated demand of Sita Ashoka bark is in excess of 2,000 MT, however, the availability in the wild is extremely rare. Likewise, though more than 1,000 MT of gum resin of Guggal is used by the Ayurvedic industry, more than 90% of this is imported.
The Board, therefore, sanctioned conservation/ plantation of Guggal over 4,000 hectares of forest areas in Gujarat and Rajasthan, Sita Ashoka over 800 hectares in the States of Karnataka, Orissa and Kerala and Dashmool trees over 1,100 hectares in the States of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Tripura and Andhra Pradesh.
Special drive was also launched to conserve and propagate high altitude plants like Atees, Kuth, Kutki through the non-government organization working at the grass root level in the Himalayas. The Task Force on High Altitude Medicinal Plants, under the Chairmanship of Sh. Chandi Prakash Bhatt, set up by the Board has been the main driver behind the conservation efforts through mobilization of civil society in the hills.
Awareness programmes like the School and Home Herbal Gardens have been extremely popular in mobilizing civil society around medicinal plants conservation. The Home Herbal Garden programme lauched in Delhi by the Union Health and Family Welfare Minister in October, 2007 for implementation through Resident Welfare Associations is proposed to be up-scaled during the current year. Under the School Herbal Garden programme, more than 1,000 schools have been covered in different parts of the country creating awareness among citizens of tomorrow about the health promoting role of our bio-diversity.
The Board is making new strides during the 11th Plan. Against a 10th Plan expenditure of Rs. 142 crores, the outlay during the 11th Plan is Rs. 990 crores – a seven fold increase. A new initiative in the form of National Mission on Medicinal Plants has been approved by the Government which seeks to promote market driven cultivation, focus on development of selected clusters with potential for inclusive growth in agri-business through medicinal plants and thereby improve the market access of growers/farmers for more remunerative prices for their produce and better quality of raw material for the Ayurvedic, Siddha and Unani industry.