Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Inaugural address delivered in the International Seminar on Medicinal Plants and Herbal products held on 7th -9th March, 2008 in the inaugural Session at S.V. University, Tiripathi , A.P

Prof. S. Kannaiyan
Chairman, National Biodiversity Authority,
Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India,
No. 475, 9th South Cross Street, Kapaleeswarar Nagar,
Neelankari, Chennai – 600 041

India, one of the 17mega diversity countries, is gifted with a wide spectrum of biodiversity. Agro biodiversity, focusing the portion of biodiversity, revolves around plants, animals and microorganism. Plant genetic variability, is very much useful, to breed and develop improved high yielding varieties, and also to utilize in commercial purposes. Therefore, they are given top most importance, and, being explored, and, conserved. It is estimated, that the total biodiversity, on the range of 3.25 million species to 1.4 billion species. According to the world conservation, monitoring center, the total number of species, described at the global level, so far is around 1.7 million. Like Food crops, as well as commercial crops, medicinal plants, are also having, wide genetic variability, and, being exploited, from time immemorial. By intuition, and instinct, Indian, Rishis identified, a particular plant, for a specific human desease. In addition, Siddhas, Dhanvanthiries, Moolavars, Nagarjunas and the farmers, and ancient experts identified, and, explored many medicinal plants, and their uses, in curing human deseases, and, these details, were also written in Palmyrah leaves in those days and, maintained in literature.

Human beings, have been utilizing, enormous, direct economies benefits, from biodiversity, in the form of food, medicines and industrial products, and has the potential, for gaining many more. Throughout the world, almost, a quarter of all medical prescriptions, are either for chemical compounds, from plants, or microorganisms, or of synthetic versions. In India, Traditional doctors, use more than 2500 plants, for medicinal purpose, while Chinese have been using, over 5000 medicinal plants. Our half of food source and human nutrition is provided by rice, wheat, maize and potato.

There are a lot of evidences to show the use of medicinal plants to cure human deseases from very long period ago. The Rig veda (5000 BC) mentioned 67 medicinal plants, Yajurveda 81, and Athervaveda (4500 – 2500 year BC) 290 plants. Charak Samhita (700 BC) has described medicinal properties and use of more than 1100 plants.

In the modern world, allopathic medicines, are given importance because, of their immediate cure, or curing the desease in short period, and got quick and fast spread allover the world, besides it is known, to mask the effect of indigenous medicinal plants. However, people have realized, that allopathic medicines, are having narcotic, and side effects, and, also expensive, to which, poor people, are not affordable. In addition, the allopathic medicines, are not curing, all the human deseases, there are deseases like jaundice, cancer, paralysis, diabetics, skin deseases etc. are not curable by the allopathic medicines. Therefore, the perception of medicare, turn around, the naturally grown, traditional medicinal plants and, also attracted, the attention, of the Governments in the world.

World Health Organization's role

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 80% of the population in developing countries relies on traditional medicines, mostly plant drugs for their primary health care needs. The demand for medicinal plants got increased in both developed and developing countries due to growing recognition of natural products being non - narcotic with no side effects and cost effective. The Common Wealth Ministers at their triennial meeting in Barbados decided that one of the four best areas for healthcare sector reforms should be legitimizing the role of traditional and complementary medicines. With the effect the countries like Australia, UK, Newzeland and Canada supported this health policy from Africa and Caribbean countries and Asian countries like Malaysia, Srilanka and India. The Health Minister and Common Wealth secretariat have appointed a NGO, called GIFTS (Global Initiative for Traditional Systems of Health) based in Oxford University UK, to act as the Secretariat for Official working group on traditional and complementary medicines.

Genetic resources of medicinal plants

India is the treasure of plants, among them 70 percent of the plants are spread across tropical forests of Western Ghats, the Vindhyas Nagpur Plateaus, Aravalli, Terai region, wide areas of Hemalayas and North East. Among these plants more than 15000 plants are medicinal plants and they grow well here because India is bestowed with favourable climatic and environmental conditions.

Biodiversity is also precious "genetic library" maintained by several ecosystems. The potential of the genetic diversity of medicinal plants has not been tapped and thus their preservation and conservation is essential for economic benefit. There is also an intimate relation ship between genetic diversity of medicinal plants and ecological processes. Natural habitat also preserve a reservoir of continuously evolving genetic material that enable various medicinal plant species to adapt changing conditions.

According to the available information about 1800 species are used in classical Indian systems of medicines, Ayurvedic uses 1200, Siddha utilizes 900, Unani uses 700, Amchi uses 600 and 450 species are used by Tibetan.

In India, large quantities of Myrobalan (4,80,000 t) Mahua flowers (50,000 t), Salseeds (50,000 t), Neem berries (1,15000 t), the tree gums, Nuxvomica seeds, Vetaria-indica roots, Sandal wood, Lemongrass Palmrosa, Gingergrass, Vettiver, besides varieties of medicinal raw materials are some major products and marketed domestically. The domestic market of Indian systems of medicine and Homoeopathy is to the tune of 4000 crores per annum and Ayurveda drug market alone is to the tune of 3500 crores.

Export of products of medicinal plants

India ranks second to China in exporting medicinal plants. In the last 10 years India's export of medicinal plants have trebled. India exports currently 35700 t of medicinal plants and plant-parts with medicinal properties annually to USA, Japan, Germany, Russia, France, Switzerland and Hongkang etc which earns 3500 crores annually. Besides about 500 medicinal industries available in India provide employment opportunities.

The estimated 95% of the medicinal plants collected in India are from the wild and process of collection is said to be destructive because of plant parts like roots rhizomes, barks, wood, leaf flower, seeds etc are used to prepare drugs. It is estimated that the parts used for processing Ayurvedic drugs are roots (29.6%), leaves (25.8%), bark (13.5%), wood (2.8%), wholeplant (16.3%), and rhizome (4%) and the rest seeds and flowers etc.

Estimates suggest that over half a million tones of dry raw materials are indis criminately and most destructiovely collected from the wild every year. Due to over harvesting several medicinal plants occurring in the forest areas of tropical subtropical temperate and alphinezones have either become extinct or endangered. High percentage of medicinal plants used by Indian industries today are collected from the wild and less than 20 species are only under commercial cultivation and about 600 species are used for the production of medicines. In a span of 10 years the used medicinal plants population of different species in a region or throughout its range of natural distribution has reduced by 80%. It is critically endangered.

Since processing involves destructive harvesting to use different parts of the plant species poses serious threat to the genetic resources and the diversity of medicinal plants, when the wild population loss is estimated as 50%. A threat assessment exercise as per latest IUCN guidelines, Southern and Northern India have already listed 427 species of medicinal plants that are endangered and threatned, of which 28 are considered extinct, 124 endangered, 81 valuables, 100 rare and 34 are sufficiently available. These species need detailed studies on their population structure, breeding behaviour and protection of their habitats for insitu conservation.

Conservation of medicinal plants

This kind of situation warrents to develop methods for conserving the Indian medicinal biodiversity because it is the vital factor improving biological productivity. Several national and international agencies have formulated appropriate policies and strategies for the conservation of medicinal plants. Conservation and utilization of medicinal plants must involve a long term integrated and scientifically oriented action programme. This should involve pertinenet aspects of protection, preservation, maintenance, exploitation, conservation and sustainable utilization. To ensure the availability of raw material of medicinal plants in future its genetic resources must be conserved to protect these endangered species by developing appropriate policies. A holistic and systematic approach envisaging interaction between social, scientific, economic and ecological groups would be a more desirable one.

Government of India has enacted a Biological diversity Act – 2002 and Biological diversity Rules, 2004 legislation, which is under implementation from 2004.

The primary objectives of the act is

  • Conservation of Bioresources and Biodiversity

  • Sustainable use

  • Fair and equitable sharing of benefit arising out of the genetic resources / associated knowledge

The Biological diversity Act - 2002

  • Ensures that the protection of Traditional knowledge at local, state and national levels.

  • Any person applying for IPR in India or abroad relating to biological resources occurring in and accessed from India must obtain prior approval and abide by the benefit sharing condition imposed by the National Biodiversity Authority.

  • The National Biodiversity Authority if necessary shall oppose world wide, IPR granted in relation to biological resources or knowledge derived from India.

  • No foreign agency can access biological resources occurring in India and related knowledge without prior consent of National Biodiversity Authority.

  • Share of the benefits shall be deposited in the National Biodiversity Fund (NBF). NBF would be used to reward people for their conservation efforts and knowledge.

The concept of biosphere reserves is the method where in specific ecosystems are conserved and managed. The germplasm collections of herbal gardens, drugs forms of valuable medicinal plants are the major sources in conserving genetic resources and biological diversity. There are two approaches to conserve the genetic materials of medicinal plants. viz., In situ and ex situ conservations.

In situ conservation

In situ conservation relates to the conservation of wild population of medicinal plants in their natural habitats. Since their natural habitats are being destroyed, and shrunk of degraded due to various biotic and environmental factors, that controls and their survival. To prevent such destruction of medicinal plants conservation programmes were launched by the State Forest department of Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Andhrapradesh and Maharashtra. This programme has set up a net work of 55 medicinal plants conservation areas across different attitude zones in these states.

Another programme known as Medicinal plant development Area, (MPDA) which are small area in NTFP (Non Tiusber Forest Products) circles and on degraded forests which are developed locally by planting available indigenous medicinal plants and trees.

Ex situ conservation

Ex situ conservation: Medicinal Plant Conservation Areas (MPCAS) Sixteen such parts have been established by NGOs and research Institutes. They grow 800 medicinal plant species known to local ethenic communities and conserve them. In addition the following are the activities of MPDA.

  • Systamatic survey and documentation of all details of each medicinal species.

  • Development of suitable species recovery programme of endangered and enrichment programme for economically valuable species.

  • Long term management of strengthened community institution and

  • Training of field staff and others on in situ conservation of medicinal plants.


The rapid loss of biodiversity remains greatest threat and to prevent this the "Gap analysis method" has been implemented to asseses the current status of the biodiversity in a given area. Another method is Bioprospecting ie, characterization of different agro ecological regions through remote sensing method on biosources, mapping, characterization and conservation of endangered medicinal and aromatic plants and bioprospecting molecules and genes for product development.

India as a part of emerging global market for herbal medicines, to have its rapid growth, herbal industry and traditional medicines sector of our country should emerge as strong forum under one umbrella. To initiate this effort the Federation of Indian Herbal industry (FIHI) was launched now in India. The Govt. of India, NGOs and Medical service Industry together should create a holistic Healthcare system.

Trade and Market potential

Like China, India should also develop its domestic market and to exploit global market. Since Europe and US have very good demand for herbal drugs and cosmetics, India can earn several million dollars annually from its International market by sending quality and effective medicines and products. To promote international trade of Indian medicinal plants and value added products marketing should be the key area to be addressed by developing Market Network and Market Intelligence Agency a market intelligence agency.

India should focus and concentrate Research and Development on value addition and manufacture for exporting phytomedicines to International standards and specifications. To promote this short - term training and financial support are to be provided to pharmaceutical industries.

India has to enforce stringent quality control and transparency as that of China. The quality of medicinal plants entails better production with rich biochemical contents, homogeneity of the product of raw materials intended for international market. The correct identity of the Botanicals without any pesticidal and heavy metal contaminants, Zero microbial activity should be ensured for International market.

Role of National Medicinal Plants Board

The National Medicinal plants board set up by the Govt. of India has identified 32 medicinal plants for promotion and developments. They are Amla (Emblica oficinalis), Ashok (Saraca asoca) Ashwagantha (Withania somnifera), Alees(Acontium heterophyllum), Bael (Aegale marmelos), Bhumiamlaki (Phyllanthus amrar), Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) Chandan (Santalum album) Chirata (Swertiachirata) Daruhala (Barberis aristata) Giloe (Tirospora cordifolia) Gudmar (Gymnema sylvestra) Guggal (Commitphora wishcii) isabgol (Plantag ovata) Jatamansib (Nardostachys jatamansi) Kalihari (Gloriosa superba) Kalmeh (Andropgraphis puniculata) kesar (Saffron) (Crocus sativus) Kokum (Garcinia indica), Kuth (Saussurea costus) kulki (Picrrhiza kurroa), Makoy (Solanum nigrum) Mulethi (Glyeyrrhiza glabra), Datterchur (Coleus) (Coleus barbatus), Pippli (Piper nigrum) safedmusli (Chlorophytum borivillanum) sarpagandha (Rauwolifa serpentina) Senna (Cassia angustifolia) Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), Valvidang(Embelia ribes) Vatsnabh (Acontium ferox).

Future thrust areas

  • Collection of seeds of endemic species in countrywide should be deposited and utilize them in breeding programme.

  • Development of a nationwide network of Medicinal plant nursery involving farmers, Indian System of Medicines, Community, Plant Breedcas, industry and conservation organization.

  • Selection and supply of quality planting materials and seeds

  • The medicinal plants should be domesticated and brought under cultivation to maintain constant supply of quality materials and thus reduce the pressure on the wild populations.

  • Key Policy provisions to promote, cultivation, o medicinal plants, marketing, development of research, to regulate, indiscriminate destructive collection, of wild medicinal plants.

  • Involvement of the tribal communities in exploration of collection and conservation and trade of ethno medicines along with nontimber forest produce.

  • In order to conserve, cultivate and improve medicinal plants research should be strengthened to solve existing problems. Research should also to be strengthened on pharmacological, clinical and chemicals.

  • Imparting in service training for staff of various government and non - government agencies like officials of forests, wild life, botanic gardens, and teachers and students of schools and colleges in taxonomy and conservation techniques and value addition.

  • Agrotechnologies are not available for cultivation of many medicinal plants and this area needs attention particularly by the SAUS & ICAR.

  • Documentation of information on Geographical distribution and resource base, package of cultivation, value additions, market status, domestic policies, convention rules and regulations for harvesting, marketing industries and trade policy, pricing pattern, social and economic dimension, coordination of research and identification of national and international groups working on medicinal plants to share the scientific knowledge.

  • HRD and HRM in among the Scientists working in Research Institutions, University and Governments.

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