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“You can even not compare the medicinal flora of India with the flora of whole world” (Writes Dr. J. S. Maiden in one of his famous books on medicinal plants).


From ancient time the Indian medicinal flora and traditional knowledge about these plants has attracted the researchers, herbalists, scientists’ etc. around the world.  In ancient Indian history, it is mentioned that many such researchers have visited India in search of this valuable knowledge, to know when the ancient man has used the medicinal plants for the first time and what was its name?  This question is still unanswered.  In addition, there is no scientific document available.  In India, Rigveda is most authentic document in this regard.  In Rigveda, the description of Soma is given as first medicinal plant used by ancient man.  There is still confusion about the scientific name of Soma.  In Indian systems of medicine, generally medicines of plant origins are preferred more than the medicines of animal origins.  One possible reason of this was the presence of natural flora in abundant in surroundings of ancient man.

In Ayurveda, it is clearly mentioned that any patient can be cured with the help of herbs present in surroundings and there is no need to go far in search of medicines.  According to ancient literatures, by observing a particular herb minutely, you can understand its utility for different human ailments.  By their deep studies, ancient Indian herbalists have found that the shape and size of different parts of herbs resembling to different human organs are useful in treatment of the diseases related to that particular organ.  For example the Karela (Momordica charantia) fruits look like the pancreas of human body. In Ayurveda, it is mentioned that Karela is a best remedy for diabetes meliatus. As you know, diabetes is a result of disturb activities of pancreas.  Today the whole world is recognizing the medicinal properties of Karela fruits. Similarly, the seed of Akhrot (Walnut) resembles to the structure of human brain.  Ancient Indian herbalists have already mentioned the use of walnut to increase the activities of human brain.  There are thousands of such examples mentioned in ancient literatures.

It is evident that our practices and experiences continue to play a very important role in community health care even though the laws governing health care services and the conventional medical practitioners and researchers have never recognized it.  This has been confirmed by the fact that the community gives a testimony of how the same traditional medicines and herbs have cured even some diseases that has been rendered incurable by the Hospitals/ conventional practitioners.  Because of the costs involved in acquiring drugs in Hospitals, communities turn to herbal medicines to cure such ailments ranging from constipation to ones that are more complicated.  It is at the same point striking that the different parts of just one plant species/cultivates can cure distinctively several diseases.

Based on the fact that our society is undergoing harsh economic times and that the government has reduced subsidy to the primary health care services, under staffing of the few available health facilities, poor state of and provision of essential drugs to our hospitals and the continued escalation as in the case of costs of drugs, a majority of our society population rely on plant and animal products for the provision of their basic health needs.

It has also been realized that most of our local resources that have medicinal values have found space and are valuable in selected markets all over the world.  This has encouraged the gross over exploitation of the same species and resources, which continue to be threatened for export earnings.  It has also been found more economical to use traditional medicines because they are more affordable and far much more easily available than the western conventional medicines.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 1 billion people rely on herbal medicines to some extent. The WHO has listed 21,000 plants that have reported medicinal uses around the world. India has a rich medicinal plant flora of some 2500 species, of these, 2000 to 3000 at least 150 species are used commercially on a large scale.  Foreign researchers have always appreciated the traditional Indian healers.  In India, traditional healers are losing their popularity.  Due to 'quick relief' (?), by the Western systems of medicine like allopathy, now the common Indian is shifting away from traditional systems.  This is resulting in poor interest of young generation in traditional knowledge.  In India, the existing government policies are also not in favor of traditional healers.  In India, generally the traditional healers are considered as Neem Hakim, the quack.

Thus, it has to be recognized that the protection of species and ecosystems is a powerful moral obligation, and we should know that any sound conservation strategy must correspond with the interests of the people who depend upon diversity most immediately.


More than 80 percent of the people in South Asia rely on herbal remedies as a principal means of preventing and curing illnesses, and several traditional medical systems are based on the use of plants.  There are several advantages to such systems: the plants involved are readily available, are easy to transport, and do not spoil quickly.  Remedies based on these plants often have minimal side effects, and the relatively high cost of synthetic medicines in developing countries often makes traditional herbal medicines an affordable choice for the poor in these lands.  The Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Traditions, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) dedicated to conservation of medicinal plants and a renewed appreciation of India's traditional health systems, describes India's rich plant-based medical heritage in these words:

“India's traditional medical systems are part of a time-honoured and time-tested culture that still intrigues people today.  A culture that has successfully used nature to treat primary and complex ailments for over 3,000 years obviously has a contemporary relevance.  In an age when toxic drugs are increasingly unwelcome and when thinking people are using viable alternatives, India's medical heritage must be documented, saved, and used.”


Medicinal and aromatic plants are important products found in forest areas throughout South Asia, from the plains to the high Himalayas, with the greatest concentration in the tropical and subtropical belts.  India recognizes more than 2,500 plant species as having medicinal value, Sri Lanka about 1,400, and Nepal around 700.  Some of these, found at high altitudes in particularly stressful environments, grow very slowly and cannot live elsewhere.  Others are more broadly distributed and adapt more easily to different ecological conditions.

During the past decade, a dramatic increase in exports of medicinal plants attests to worldwide interest in these products as well as in traditional health systems.  In the last 10 years, for example, India's exports of medicinal plants have trebled.  However, with most of these plants being taken from the wild, hundreds of species are now threatened with extinction because of over harvesting, destructive collection techniques, and conversion of habitats to crop-based agriculture.  For instance, the small coniferous Himalayan yew (Taxus baccata) has recently become a heavily traded species.  It is avidly sought because it contains taxol, used to treat ovarian cancer.  Large quantities of this plant are collected and exported annually, although it’s harvesting is illegal in most South Asian countries.

If existing supplies of medicinal plants are to keep up with demand, they will need adequate protection through development of appropriate institutions, policies, and legislation.  Local communities need support and encouragement to protect these resources.  To complement cultivation of adaptable species, harvesting from the wild must be guided by accurate inventories and knowledge about the species concerned.  Above all, overexploitation of rare and endangered species must be avoided.


The need for internationally agreed methodologies for giving effect to the equity provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is now widely recognized.  The issue of benefit sharing has received considerable attention during the last decade.  Article 15 of CBD recognizes that "States have sovereign rights over their own biological resources.”  It also recognizes "the close and traditional dependence of many indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles on biological resources, and the desirability of sharing equitably benefits arising from the use of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices relevant to the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components".  Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) calls on the Contracting Parties to respect, preserve, and maintain the knowledge, innovations, and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles.  It also calls for the equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge, innovations, and practices.  The issue of integrating equity principles in benefit sharing arrangements has been under the consideration of the Contracting Parties (COP) since the third meeting of COP held at Buenos Aires in 1966.  The absence of an internationally agreed methodology for sharing economic benefits from the commercial exploitation of biodiversity with the primary conservers and holders of traditional knowledge and information is leading to a growing number of accusations of biopiracy committed by business and industry in developing countries.  Biodiversity in both developing and developed countries has been accessed for a long time, for various purposes, by outside researchers, private companies as well as local communities, with little or no returns to conservation activities.  Bioprospecting has been practiced for many years in different forms but in more recent times in particular with the development of CBD, the issue of sharing of benefits arising from bio-prospecting has attained significance. However, certain critical issues remain unresolved, particularly in relation to how to go about legalizing and formalizing the bio-prospecting process in a way which ensures that there is full and prior informed consent of fair and equitable benefit sharing with the originator of the knowledge and resource that enable the bio-prospecting.

There has been a recent growth of interest in traditional medicine from the international pharmaceutical industry, as well as from the national product industry in Europe and America.  Traditional medicine has become to be viewed by the pharmaceutical industry as a source of "qualified leads" in the identification of bioactive agents for use in the production of synthetic modern drugs.  Bioprospectors express optimism that they can help to implement the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity by encouraging biodiversity, conservation, and stimulating capacity building in developing countries.  Many indigenous people and local communities however, are skeptical of existing bioprospecting agreements.  Those concerned with the development of bio-resources for human health recognize that when local custodians of biodiversity benefit from their sustainable use by others, conservation opportunities increase.  The CBD codifies this benefit-sharing principle, but the absence of applicable instruments to equitably compensate all stakeholders within a country leaves it largely untested.  A large portion of the population in a number of developing countries still relies mainly on traditional practitioners, including traditional birth attendants, herbalists and bonesetters, and local medicinal plants to satisfy their primary health care needs.  Practices involving use of traditional medicine vary greatly form country to country and from region to region as they are influenced by factors such as culture, mentality, and philosophy. Despite its existence over many centuries and its expansive use during the last decade, in most countries, traditional medicine, including herbal medicines has not yet been officially recognized, and in most countries, the regulations and registration of herbal medicines have not been well established.  Furthermore, research and training activities for traditional medicine has not received due support and attention.  As a result, the quantity and quality of safety and efficacy data are far from sufficient to meet the demands for the use of traditional medicine in the world.  Safety and efficacy data exist only in respect of much smaller number of plants and their extracts and active ingredients, as well as preparations containing them.  Reasons for the lack of research data involve not only policy problems, but also the research methodology for evaluating traditional medicine.  There is literature and data on the research of traditional medicine in various countries, but not all scientists may accept them.  There is a need for validation and standardization of phytomedicines and traditional medical practices so that this sector can be accorded its rightful place in the health care system.  As the characteristics and applications of traditional medicine are quite different form western medicine, how to evaluate traditional medicine and what kind of academic research approaches and methods may be used to evaluate the safety and efficacy of traditional medicine are new challenges which have emerged in recent years.  Along with increased interest in medicine is an increased interest in the safety aspects of the practice of herbal medicine.  Private sector involved in the business of herbal drugs should take responsibility and ensure the safety and efficacy of the preparations that they put on the market.  The private sector (e.g. biotechnology industry) plays a crucial role in developing economic activities relating to herbal bioprospecting, using the skills and knowledge of local peoples and compensating them for their knowledge.

 In the last, few years’ developing countries have felt the increasing pressure of what has now become known as bioprospecting and biopiracy.  The pressure has come especially in the sector of traditional medicine.  Given the fact that in most countries, very little legislation is in place, civil society groups and governments have reacted increasingly strongly.  Communities are looking for concrete short-term benefits and, in most cases, monetary benefits.  Therefore, they would not be interested in long drawn out access and benefit agreements.  There is a need for funding agencies and bioprospectors to start funding the communities or the service providers to communities to work through the process of value addition to both potential and existing products, through a bottom up approach.  Currently this aspect of the debate on access and benefit sharing has not received much attention, as the focus has been on the development and establishment of policies and legislation.  It is clear that many local and indigenous communities will not be able to go through this process alone and would need assistance and capacity development.  Many legal and practical problems relating to protection of IPR remain yet to be fully understood and addressed: the collective ownership/custodianship of traditional medicine; the problem of ownership and exercise of rights in traditional medicinal knowledge which exists across different countries in a region; practical means for the exercise and management of rights; mechanisms for application of customary law to protection of traditional medicine; and the need for comprehensive documentation standards, for traditional medicine. In order to achieve better understanding and wider consensus of these issues it is necessary to address basic conceptual problems and test practical solutions to the protection of traditional medicine.  There is a need to continue debate with true stakeholders-practitioners of traditional medicine, representatives of the medical community, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, intergovernmental organizations, etc. for finding a solution to the problems.


In a world a creativity, intellectual property rights system has been innovated by which an exclusive ownership or control can be taken over an object that has been ‘invented’ and the person/corporation shall have economic interest for a certain period of time. But when patents are claimed over biodiversity and indigenous knowledge that are based on the innovation, creativity, and genius of the people of the ‘third world’, it is meant to be ‘biopiracy’. Since a ‘patent’ is given for invention, a biopiracy patent denies the innovation embodied in indigenous knowledge.  The rush to grant patents and reward invention has led corporations and governments in the industrialized world to ignore the centuries of cumulative, collective innovation of generations of rural communities.

Due to this factor, the third world countries are losing their technological capacities, while global corporations are keeping tight control over patented technologies even when they move across borders.  The global patent regime as determined by the TRIPs agreement is making the third world lose twice over on the technology transfer front.  First, indigenous technology is being pirated and patented through IPR systems.  A UNDP study shows that third world countries are losing $300 million in unpaid royalties for farmer’s seeds and over $5 million billion in unpaid royalties for medicinal plants, if 2 percent royalties were charged on biological diversity developed by third world countries.

Biopiracy and patenting of indigenous knowledge is a double theft because first, it allows theft of creativity and innovation, and secondly, the exclusive rights established by patents on stolen knowledge steal economic options of everyday survival based on indigenous biodiversity and knowledge.  Though a common proposal was offered, as a solution to biopiracy is that of bioprospecting and benefit sharing, i.e., those who claim patents on indigenous knowledge should share benefits from the profits of their commercial monopolies with the original innovators, it is merely a sophisticated form of biopiracy.  There are two basic problems with this model too.  Firstly, if knowledge already exists, a patent based on it is very unjustified since it violates the principles of novelty and non-obviousness.  Granting patents for indigenous knowledge amounts to stating that the patent system is about power and control, not inventions and novelty. Secondly, the appropriation of indigenous knowledge vital for food and medicine, its conversion into an exclusive right through patents, and the establishment of an economic system in which people have to buy what they had produced for themselves and what they had prepared (traditional medicine) for themselves, which denies benefits and creates impoverishment, not a process which promotes ‘benefit sharing’.

Karela, Jamun, Brinjal and Neem, were used for diverse purposes over centuries in India. They were used as medicines. However, knowing the benefits, the Multinational corporations had come forward to get patents over them, so as to make profits. This clearly amounts to intellectual piracy by the developed countries, which they claim to be novel and different from the original product of nature and the traditional method of use.

Even though bioprospecting contracts are based on prior informed consent and compensation, unlike biopiracy where:

  • As biodiversity gains commercial value globally, e.g., a medicinal plant, if it is explioted, this would lead to diversion of the biological resource from meting local needs to feeding non-local greed.  This generates scarcity, thus leading to price increases;
  • In the case of over exploitation, it can lead to extinction;
  • The local scarcity combined with IPRs on derived commodities eventually takes the resource and its products beyond the access of the donor communities (e.g., neem);
  • The providing communities lose their rightful share to emerging markets;
  • Other poor communities, which could have received the knowledge freely or at low cost, are also made dependent on the commercial interest.

Therefore, equitable benefit sharing in the domain of indigenous knowledge and biodiversity is inconsistent with the monopolies and exclusive rights, which patents guarantee.  Outlawing biopiracy and making patents based on the piracy of indigenous knowledge illegal is thus necessary for guaranteeing equity and sustainability.  Secondly, it is better to have a sui generis system, whereby, we will be able to protect, preserve, and utilize the benefits, the way we need.


The issue of access to and use of indigenous knowledge linked to traditional knowledge is becoming highly emotive, not the least because of the huge implications of the economics of such traditional knowledge; an example being the 60 billion dollars world market on herbal products being expected to grow to 5 trillion dollars by the year 2020.  World Health Organisation (WHO) defines traditional medicine as "the sum total of all the knowledge and practices, whether explicable or not, used in diagnosis, prevention and elimination of physical, mental or social imbalance and relying exclusively on practical experience and observations handed down from generation to generation, whether verbally or in writing".  Health care providers worldwide including major pharmaceutical giants are turning to incorporate many of these into their mainstream activities.  As traditional medicines are largely based on medicinal plants, indigenous to these countries, where the system has been in vogue for several centuries, the effort is on accessing them either directly or through the use of modern tools of breeding and cultivation, including tissue culture, cell culture and transgenic technology. IP issues linked to such endeavors remain unresolved.

WIPO has been sensitive to these concerns.  At a conference held in October 1998, under the aegis of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) an agenda for the future of IPR in the field of traditional medicines was prepared, which prioritized activities in this area, namely, development of standards for the availability, scope and use of IPRs on traditional medicine in Asian countries, systematic documentation of traditional medicine for protection purposes, regional and inter-regional information exchange and compilation of the requisite data bases, etc.  This agenda needs to be moved forward.

The grant of patents on non-original innovations (linked to traditional medicines), which are either based on what is already a part of the traditional knowledge of the developing world, or a minor variation thereof, have been causing a great concern to the developing world.  CSIR from India asked for a reexamination of the US patent No. 5,401,5041, which was granted for the wound healing properties of turmeric.  In a landmark decision, USPTO revoked this patent after ascertaining that there was no novelty; the innovation having been used in India for centuries.  The case of the revocation earlier of the patent granted to W.R. Grace Company and US Department of Agriculture on Neem (EPO patent No. 436257) by European Patent Office, again on the same grounds of its use having been known in India, is another example.  Earlier, India has filed a reexamination request for the patent on Basmati rice lines and grains   (US Patent No. 5,663,484) granted by the USPTO.  Therefore, there is a problem on the grant of such patents linked to the indigenous knowledge of the developing world that needs to be addressed jointly by the developing world and the patent offices of the developed world.

 We need to understand that there is a distinction between the patents that are granted based on modern research and patents, which can be categorized as traditional knowledge based patents.   A recent study by an Indian expert group examined randomly selected 762 US patents, which were granted under A61K35/78 and other IPC classes, having a direct relationship with medicinal plants in terms of their full text.  Out of these, 762 patents 374 (49%) patents were found to be based on traditional knowledge. The fact that 408 patents have been granted by USPTO during March '2000 itself on several medicinal plants implies that there is an extreme urgency in addressing the issue of patents on traditional systems of medicine.  The Governments in the developing world as well as members of public are equally concerned about the grant of patents for non-original inventions in the traditional knowledge systems of the developing world.  At International level, there is significant level of support for opposing the grant of patents on non-original inventions.  For example, more than a dozen organizations from around the world got together to oppose the EPO Neem patent and the entire process took five years.  The process of opposition is, however, extremely expensive and time consuming.  A recent suggestion by USPTO provides a rational approach to solve these problems.

Patent examiners, in the international patent offices, when considering the patent ability of any claimed subject matter, use available resources for searching the appropriate non-patent literature sources.  Patent literature, however, is usually wholly contained in several distinctive
databases and can be more easily searched and retrieved than can non-patent literature prior art that may be buried somewhere in the many and diverse sources of non-patent literature.  Therefore, we need to address the need of creating more easily accessible non-patent literature databases that deal with traditional knowledge.  As rightly suggested by USPTO, this should be a project for the SCIT Working Group of WIPO on Standards and Documentation in collaboration with International Patent Classification (IPC) Committee of Experts.  With the help of the developing countries, traditional knowledge can be documented, captured electronically, and placed in the appropriate classification within the IPC so that it can be more easily searched and retrieved.  This would help to prevent the patenting of products that have been based on the traditional knowledge of the developing world.


 It is proposed that the developing world should create a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL).  The TKDL portal should have a web-based search interface providing full text search and retrieval of traditional knowledge.  The TKDL portal should have full data on traditional medicine and practices including the pertinent scientific literature.  Such a   portal should include cross-references, key words, comprehensive search interfaces, indexing & retrieval and it should have a secured access on the web.  In future, TKDL can increase its canvas beyond the traditional medicine and include other innovations based on traditional knowledge.

 The methodology and standards used in the creation of the TKDL portals should be the same as those established by several of IP offices such as USPTO, European Patent Offices or WIPO's Intellectual Property Digital Library (IPDL).  The search features should include complex Boolean
expression search, proximity searching, field searching, phrase searching, right and left truncation, adjustable display format etc.  Search should be available on PC, key words, synonyms, and guided search on traditional knowledge classification.

Eventually the creation of TKDL in the developing world would serve a bigger purpose in providing and enhancing its innovation capacity.  It
could integrate widely scattered and distributed references on the traditional knowledge systems of the developing world in a retrievable
form.  It could act as a bridge between the traditional and modern knowledge systems.  Availability of this knowledge in a retrievable form in many languages will give a major impetus to modern research in the developing world, as it   itself   can then get involved in innovative research on adding further value to this traditional knowledge; an example being the development of an allopathic medicine based on a traditional plant based therapeutic.  Sustained efforts on the modernization of the traditional knowledge systems of the developing world will create higher awareness at national and international level and will establish a scientific approach that will ensure higher acceptability of these systems by practitioners of modern systems and public at large.

IPC has been widely accepted by the patent authorities globally for classification and retrieval of information.  A recent study by an Indian
expert group has demonstrated that IPC in its present form is adequate to retrieve information pertaining to traditional knowledge, once IPC codes are integrated with the available traditional knowledge.  Therefore, sustained IPC reforms for documenting the traditional knowledge may not be required.  Patent examiners will be facilitated by the search facilities based on IPC and key words (in one of the UN languages) with details in modern as well as traditional names.  Such classification must remain internal to TKDL and should become a search facility based on IPC and key words.

There should be an effort to create a Traditional Knowledge Resource Classification (TKRC), which can be utilized for storing the information,
so that it acts as a metafile and provides multi language capabilities to TKDL.  TKRC in the structure of IPC will offer a uniform acceptable solution; it will serve as an instrument for the orderly arrangement of documents relating to traditional medicinal plants and other traditional knowledge resources.  It will serve as a basis for selective dissemination of information of traditional resources to all users of non-patented information.  A pioneering effort to create TKRC has been initiated in India at the behest of the Department of Indian Systems of Medicine and Homeopathy.

Some other concrete recommendations that WIPO itself could follow up are as follows.

(i) Under SCIT implementation plan of WIPO, a feasibility report on traditional knowledge databases has been planned by the end of the year
2000.  It is suggested that a specific project based on the Indian efforts on traditional knowledge digital library (described in 17-21) be taken up.

(ii) For documenting traditional knowledge, it will be necessary that a unique traditional knowledge resource classification (TKRC) gets adopted
globally.  TKRC relating to more than 2000 medicinal plants has already been completed by the Indian experts.  This classification will have to be
enhanced at a global level.  It is recommended that a TKRC Enhancement and Reform Sub-Committee under IPC Reform Committee may be constituted at the earliest.  This will benefit quick documentation of traditional knowledge as well as further enrichment of international patent classification relating to traditional knowledge systems.

(iii) The domain name www.tkdl.com may be taken up by WIPO as the global repository of traditional knowledge.  Each country, in turn, may pre-fix the name of their country to the global traditional knowledge library documentation, for example, http://www.india.tkdl.com/.
(iv) Once the National Traditional Knowledge Digital Libraries are created, they may get included in the official list of international search
authorities (ISA) relating to non-patent literature.  Presently, there are 135 non-patent technical journals, periodical literature in the non-patent lists of ISA.

(v) Once the traditional knowledge digital library by various member states is created and integrated with www.tkdl.com, it will be useful for the IP offices to take a review of the patents granted in traditional knowledge systems for non-original inventions.  Revocation of such patents by IP Offices will go a long way in addressing the emotive concerns of the
developing world on the issue of IPR based on indigenous knowledge.


Through various lending and nonlending initiatives, the World Bank is assisting the countries of South Asia to address these needs. Some of these efforts are described below:

The Kerala Forestry Project: The conservation of medicinal plants is a key objective of biodiversity conservation components in several forestry projects in India being assisted by the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank's concessionaire lending arm. The Kerala Forestry Project, recently approved by IDA's board, is supporting a pilot program that involves tribal and other forest-dependent communities in the inventory, conservation, and sustainable development of medicinal plants. The four-year project, expected to cost US$47.0 million, is being financed with a US$39.0 million IDA credit and contributions totaling US$8.0 million from the state of Kerala and project beneficiaries. Project activities related to medicinal plants will cost US$0.2 million, or 0.4 percent of the total.
The project supports technological improvements for artificial propagation of endangered plant species; research and training in better harvesting and processing techniques; community management of plant propagation, harvesting, and marketing; analysis of marketing policies; establishment of community-managed, forest-based enterprises for income generation; and monitoring and evaluation of the status of these natural resources with the assistance of local communities.  This pilot program will be implemented initially in five villages that are economically highly dependent on medicinal plants.

The Kerala Forest Department and the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute have formed a partnership to design and implement the program. The institute will take the lead in providing the technical expertise for taking plant inventories, developing processing techniques, and designing marketing strategies, and the department will help form community groups.  While relatively modest, this program holds real promise of enhancing the sustainable management of the medicinal plant resources of Kerala in a way that will enable local communities to reap the economic benefits of these resources without depleting the forests and endangered plant species.

The Sri Lanka Medicinal Plants Project: This project is the first approved by the World Bank that is focused exclusively on the conservation and sustainable management of medicinal plants. To be implemented between 1998 and 2002, the project is estimated to cost US$5.07 million. It is being financed by a grant of US$4.57 million from the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund and a contribution of US$0.5 million from the government of Sri Lanka. The World Bank is the implementing agency for the fund. The objectives of the project are to conserve important medicinal plants, their habitats, and genetic stock while promoting sustainable use. These goals will be achieved through three initiatives to:
•Establish five medicinal plant conservation areas where plant collection from the wild is particularly intensive and develop a conservation strategy for each; implement village action plans to reduce dependency on harvesting from the wild; collect basic socioeconomic and botanical data; and promote extension and education on medicinal properties of species within these conservation areas.
•Increase nursery capacity to develop the cultivation potential of select species and support research on propagation and field planting techniques.
•Collect and organize existing information on plant species and their use and promote an appropriate legal framework through production of draft regulations to ensure the protection of intellectual property rights.

A medicinal plant nursery in Sri Lanka: This project is expected to yield important environmental and social benefits. It will help conserve more than 1,400 medicinal plant species used in Sri Lanka, of which 189 are found only there and at least 79 are threatened. It will spread knowledge about sustainable growth, crop yields, biological cycles, and the danger of depleting plant resources; maintain critical habitats for medicinal plants; and increase the diversity and quantity of threatened species. The project will also preserve indigenous knowledge about medicinal plants and their use, promote policy and legal reforms, involve tribal people and local communities in efforts to reduce dependency on wild resources, and generate alternative income opportunities for the rural population. From a national perspective, the project will increase supplies of raw materials for traditional medicines, improve the availability and management of information, and promote human resource development in medicinal plant-related fields.

Sector work in Nepal: International trade in medicinal plants both within South Asian countries and with East Asia, Europe, and North America is growing in economic importance. More than 90 percent of the medicinal plants exported from Nepal go to India, earning an estimated US$8.6 million annually. To evaluate how medicinal plants and other forest products influence local, national, and international economies, the government of Nepal and the Bank are collaborating in a study of forest resource management and its impact on Nepal's ecology and economy. The study is exploring the underlying causes of medicinal plant overexploitation and unsustainable management. Other goals are to identify actions needed to encourage sustainable management of medicinal plants that will help conserve biodiversity and to propose legal, policy, economic, social, technical, and institutional initiatives to mitigate overexploitation. This study is part of the World Bank's Global Overlays Program, in which the Nepal study will serve as a country case for examining ways of introducing biodiversity conservation into natural resource management.

The India Capacity Building for Food and Drugs Quality Control Project: In addition to supporting initiatives to conserve medicinal plants and ensure their sustainable use, the Bank advocates complementary actions to increase the capacities of its client countries to safeguard the quality of drugs, including plant-based remedies. India is currently preparing a project for possible IDA financing with a broad array of activities to improve the safety of conventional drugs and traditional remedies and prevent food adulteration.  This project is expected to include a comprehensive survey of medicinal plants in the north-western state of Himachal Pradesh and establish a center for quality control and improvement of herbal drugs. In addition, the project will upgrade pharmaceutical standards and quality control in India by improving federal laboratories that test medicinal plants and set standards for remedies used in traditional medical systems. This project should boost consumer protection through higher quality standards for both traditional remedies and modern drugs.

Although the Bank has supported some pioneering work in the South Asia region related to medicinal plants and, more generally, natural resource management, much remains to be done. In the future, it will be important to mainstream medicinal plants and other nontimber forest products into natural resource management and development programs.


Traditional medicines have, in their history, been considered unethical and unscientific as they are neither standardized nor coded as in the case of western / conventional medicines.  Most of our traditional healers often due to in adequacy in research and therapeutic proof do not effectively diagnose and prescribe drugs.  Though this is the case, the traditional medicine practitioner’s knowledge continues to be over exploited by researchers.


1.Traditional and conventional practitioners should initiate dialogue with a vision of addressing the high level of suspicion between the two, as both systems have to learn from one another.
2.Local and conventional/ research practitioners should be transparent in their dealings to help change the attitude that has already existed before.
3.Collate and harmonize legislation pertaining to medicinal plants and related knowledge (indigenous).
4.Promote the development of community herbal and traditional medicinal clinics where there are no conventional systems to provide essential services to the populace. 5.Incorporate traditional practices into the mainstream conventional systems.
6.Training programmes to promote useful cultural practices aimed at supporting medicinal plants at the local level (sustainable utilization).
7.Conserve the already existing traditional medicine sources and promote the cultivation and domestication of the threatened species.
8.Networking among practitioners should be encouraged to enhance effective usage.  9.Identify potential income generating and self-motivating activities in the area of medicinal plants and traditional medicines.
10.Encourage and develop capacity building actions for indigenous organizations and local communities in the same.
11.Programme exchange visits to learn from other's experiences, challenges and strengths.
12. The intellectual/patenting rights should not only be limited to the professionals, but has to extend to traditional healers also.
13. The practitioners should have a chance to decide the costs of the same traditional medicines, when it is sold elsewhere or even exported.
14. Domestication, protection and conservation of the same important varieties should be encouraged.  This will go a long way in conserving our natural resources, which are never separable with the traditional health care.

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