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Executive Summary


Biodiversity Governance for Managing Endemic and Threatened Medicinal Plants in India – A Geoinformatic Approach

Manoj Kumar Sarkar, I.F.S.

Biodiversity Governance Book MKS

The concepts of biodiversity and sustainable management of natural resources of forests became a global concern during 1980’s and 90’s and globalization has triggered an upsurge in the production of plant based medicines and herbal products. More than seventy percent of the people worldwide rely chiefly on traditional, largely herbal medicine to meet their primary health care needs. India, being a tropical country with favourable phytogeographical prerequisites for plant growth, has rich floral diversity with estimated 45,000 plant species and over a sixth of them have medicinal value. Traditional herbal medicine has been practiced in India and China since ancient times. India is also one of the world’s leading exporters of medicinal plants (MPs) and herbal products, second only to China. With over 50,000 herbal formulations, an industrial turn over of Rs. 4200 crores per annum, and a projected annual growth rate of 20-30%, the MP related health sector is poised to take off. Despite its advantageous position, its share of the US$ 62 billion global market is less than half a percent.

Although trade in MPs in India has doubled since globalization, it is completely controlled by the informal sector with large traders operating from port towns and important cities, while only 15% of the MPs are cultivated in the country and remaining 85% used in trade and industries comes from the wild/forests. The increase in trade resulting in indiscriminate harvesting and export have put a large number of India’s MPs under the threat of extinction.

Further, analysis of the working plan operations (prescriptions of work to be carried out in any forest Division/District for next ten years) in forestry sector since 1900 shows that tree species of commercial value and fuel wood have received far more importance than other lower habits like shrubs, herbs, climbers, grasses, etc., which account for 66% of floral composition of forests and include many species of great medicinal and commercial value. It is a matter of concern that when more than 1000 species of MPs suffer from various degrees of threats with genetic loss for ever, still there is no policy formulation/reforms in this sector of integrated phyto- resource management in the country. In the absence of such species specific laws or policies for plants, indiscriminately collected MPs from any unit area from wild / forests could neither be identified (physically or by biochemical tests in forensic lab due to lack of skill, expertise and policies) nor booked outside the forest boundary under any offence, as it is not legally supported by the court of law.

The management of flora (including MPs) needs to be prioritized and dealt with site specific geographic information of their natural habitats. Precise point-location data on microclimate, topography and soil, in association with geographical distribution of threatened medicinal plant species in the phyto-sociological layout will lead to the exact locality information of the concerned taxa, their population status, the factors limiting their distributions, and also the factors leading to local and biological extinction and critical habitats. The protection, conservation and overall management of threatened MPs need support of various kinds like inventory of resources and ascertaining their species specific threat status, effective regulations, institutional mechanism and strong legislative support, as well as the participation of all stakeholders with systematic short term and long term planning in place.

Hence, the soul of this book is anchored with rehabilitation approach of these endemic and threatened groups of plants of trees, shrubs, and herbs which provide life saving drugs to the people. I have documented 1106 plant species occurring in Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) based on 120 sample survey quadrats laid in the field. Out of this, around 772 species are recorded as MPs used in Ayurveda, Folk, Siddha, Tibetian, Unani, Homeopathy and Allopathy systems of medicine. Of this, as many as 189 endemic species of angiosperms have been identified from this region. In Western Ghats and other parts of Peninsular India, 122 endemic and threatened medicinal plant species (ETMPs) are distributed, while 58 ETMPs are confined to KMTR and its surroundings alone in the world. The information with latest taxonomical names, synonyms, family, habits, their utility in Indian systems of medicine, the forest types where they occur, centers of endemism and also the threat status are furnished in Appendix-I. The floral biodiversity indices of species is provided in Appendix – II while in Appendix – III and IV detailed information about 58 ETMPs, their centre of endemism, intensity of threats along with factors of threats are elaborated. Further, as helping hand to the field executives for species recovery programme, a table showing Phenology and Propagation Calendar of ETMPs is furnished in Chapter – V. For easy identification of lesser known species in field, more than 300 coloured illustrations are furnished as flagship species under major forest types narrated in this book.

Detailed study of various phytogeographic parameters for plant growth in the study area were taken up. Generation of thematic maps on many themes, (e.g. geology, elevation and relief, slope, geomorphology, drainage, slope, bio-climate, soil etc.), all in common geo reference can be used in GIS domain for modeling. To prepare maps on MPs with its environmental entity (with abiotic and biotic parameters) using geospatial techniques is a model study. Accordingly thirty two thematic maps have been prepared with common geo reference and finally Summary Table of abiotic factors of individual ETMPs along with their ecological situations elaborated so that further rehabilitation work for the species can be taken up by the custodian and also similar work can be taken up for other species too.

Creation of a Conservation Development Model and Action Plan, a real need of the hour has been suggested for selected species. A conservation development model for prioritizing the management prescriptions for MPs along with Taxon Data sheet of sixteen ETMPs with species specific Recovery Plans in addition to the details of 58 ETMPs of the study area is also provided. Finally the causes for decline of the medicinal plants to reach their threshold point of threatened conditions were found out especially for these select ETMPs.

Species specific recovery plans of sixteen selected ETMPs of the area have been discussed at length with sufficient coloured illustrations and prescribed for future course of action by the custodian. Identifying these species in the field along with their specific geo-coded location and then prescribing specific Recovery plan for each species with the Phenological and propagation Calendar is a new venture in the scientific literature related to wild plants. Mapping of Floristic species richness, Medicinal plant species richness, Hotspots of ETMPs and finally Zonation of conservation values based on field survey and analysis is a novel study that can be applied for all areas of natural forests/wild areas for resource planning. Modelling for Strategic Management and Conservation by prioritization of threatened MPs of any unit area as generated in this study will have much application value to develop protocol for similar purposes for any given area.

The findings of this study is placed primarily before the custodian stakeholders of medicinal plants (with special attention to the endemic and threatened ones) which suffer from different degrees of threats and need immediate attention from the Policy makers and natural resource managers. As the appropriate policies are not in place even after the economic liberalization in 90’s and its consequent effect of the upsurge in production of medicinal plants and herbal products and while more than 1000 medicinal plants suffer from various degrees of threats, the existing policy frame work regarding protection assurance of the floral species of the country needs to be relooked at. Because of this vacuum at policy level, the trade remains opaque and completely controlled by the informal sector. The custodian has no material stake in the trade either in terms of revenue or even in terms of surveillance of what is exported. Besides, the executives in field meant to protect and conserve these plant resources are not in a position to take any appropriate legal action against the persons involved in illegal collection and destructive harvesting as it is not legally supported in the court of law.

Specific policy lacunae in the system has been provided by analyzing the i) role of existing legal provisions and polices in protecting medicinal plants; ii) protection assurance status of flora in comparison to fauna and iii) the historical perspective of policies and Acts formulated over the last 120 years in forestry, which clearly spell out the shortcomings as well as the paradigm shift required in the management strategy for medicinal plants. Further, overall summary in the sector has been drawn through the SWOT analysis and furnished in Chapter – V.

Therefore specific recommendations for Policy formulation, extension of legalprovisions for conservation and sustainable utilization of medicinal plants were developed based on the findings of this study. Finally, a list of 201 Threatened Medicinal plants have been proposed for inclusion as Plant Schedules in Wildlife (Protection) Act based on CAMP workshops conducted by various prime institutes in this field like FRLHT, Bangalore; Zoo Outreach Organization, Coimbatore; Forest Department, Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow and my own field study. This list of proposed Plant Schedule is supplemented with 193 photographs collected from various sources in addition to my own photographs with the single objective to provide comprehensive information to the users at one reference. The findings provide necessary input for the Policy makersto evolve conservation strategies, formulate negative list of MPs from the threatened groups of plants so that these can be well protected using appropriate Plant Schedule.

Finally, I have provided a Recommendation Tree and Action Plan for conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants with all related issues so that this can be applied by the custodian as well other stakeholders in the field for protecting and conserving these resources. The required training of stakeholders of medicinal plants at various levels and also the related technology in identification, protection and conservation of medicinal plants are provided with exclusive flow charts.

The study has identified the problems and prospects of medicinal plant sector in the country and accordingly prescribed necessary management strategies to overcome the same in a comprehensive manner based on detailed field survey as a pilot study. Although the study is representing KMTR in Tamil Nadu, the proposed model of conservation would hold good for the entire country, of course with minor modifications based on site specific issues of individual States. I am sure that it would help in framing Government policies and their implementation for conserving and managing sustainably the MPs of the country.

This document treads in a multidisciplinary path incorporating and synthesizing information from a variety of interrelated subjects like biodiversity with taxonomy and ecological input, geo-informatics, phytochemistry, public policy and management to serve as a reference point for the endemic and threatened medicinal plants, whilst endeavouring to provide a road map for conservation of plants.

Finally, this book is intended to reach the users involved in the field, policy makers of the country and also the elites who convert the broad policy into practical steps to implement these in field. Be it conservation of medicinal plants, biodiversity, or eco development, or even application of advance technology in decision making and planning by geo informatics, there is lack of written document in the form of a authentic handbook to provide readymade information to the practitioners who toil in the field to undertake protection and conservation measures of imperiled plants and flora in general. I attempted to fill up this gap with my earnest efforts of a decade by offering this document as service to the Nation. In spite of my best efforts, it is possible that there may be some shortcomings/errors in this book inadvertently. If these are intimated, I shall improve upon this book in future.

Bringing out this scientific document is considered as an opportunity to learn intimately the floral resources including medicinal plants of the country and KMTR in particular to protect, conserve and augment them ensuring sustainable benefit flow for the people of this country. I have enjoyed the journey of carrying out this work. The information given here in this book, if can bring some positive change in the system in protecting the imperiled plants and if people of my country at large are benefited, I shall feel rewarded.

26th January, 2012

Coimbatore – 641 043

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[Manoj Kumar Sarkar]