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Case study: Rasuwa, Nepalese Himalaya
Community-based conservation and sustainable use of potential medicinal plants in Rasuwa, Nepalese Himalaya
Ethnobotanical Society of Nepal (ESON)
September 2006 to August 2007
- To build capacity among the Tamang community (the third largest ethnic group in Nepal) for the sustainable use and conservation of medicinal plants.
- Undertake research to determine priority species from local perspectives, and to determine their distribution, abundance, uses and any conservation measures already in place.
- Augment the capacity of Community Forest Groups with respect to their abilities to monitor populations of the plants and develop sustainable harvesting plans.
- Act as the first stage of a longer programme of engagement by ESON with the community to promote the sustainable use and conservation of wild plants.
- To later include the promotion of cultivation for marketable species and the development of local health care services based on traditional medicine.
Langtang National Park, established in 1976 and with a surface area of 1710 km2, has a rich and unique flora and fauna. Reaching to the border between Nepal and China in the central Himalaya, the park, and its buffer zone in the northern part of Rasuwa District in central Nepal, represent a meeting point between the Indo-Malayan and Palearctic floristic realms. The Ministry of Forests, Department of Plant Resources and other research institutions have recorded more than 900 species of vascular plants (including 16 endemics) in and around the park. The park is rich in cultural diversity, with the Tamang and Yolmo people being the most numerous ethnic groups. Langtang National Park is a famous destination for trekkers and pilgrims. It is visited annually by a significant number of tourists from inside and outside the country. This high altitude national park is normally snow-covered for about six months of the year, providing limited opportunities for farming.
Given the complex topography, fragile landscape and infertile landscape, life for the Tamang community is becoming more and more vulnerable.
At higher altitudes, the people are entirely dependent on traditional medicine, based largely on plants, provided by local healers known here as Lama, Amchi, Jhakri and Baidya.
These healers prepare herbal formulations from medicinal plants collected in and around the park. Apart from this domestic use, medicinal plants are also collected for sale (this is mostly illegal). Species of medicinal plants available in this area include Aconitum spicatum, Acorus calamus, Bergenia ciliata, Dactylorhiza hatagirea, Nardostachys grandiflora, Neopicrorhiza scrophulariiflora, Paris polyphylla, Podophyllum hexandrum, Rheum australe, Swertia chirayita, Swertia multicaulis, Taxus wallichiana, Valeriana jatamansi and Zanthoxylum armatum.
Every year, large volumes of medicinal plants are collected unscientifically causing depletion of resources and degradation of habitats. Furthermore, indigenous knowledge on the uses of the plants is declining. This is especially so regarding the traditional formulations of local healers. Given this context, creating awareness about medicinal plants among the local people and building local capacity to list and assess these resources are considered to be important steps for achieving conservation of these valuable plants.
This project is intended to develop participatory, community-based, management of medicinal plants within the national park and its buffer zone. The project team will work with local mother groups, eco-clubs, the National Park Forest Management Committee and the Buffer Zone Management Committee to develop activities for the conservation of medicinal plants. These activities will include raising awareness about the importance of in-situ conservation of medicinal plants.
Hotspots for medicinal plants will be identified and quantitative assessments made of the amounts of the plants available for harvest. Medicinal plant monitoring groups will be established for the buffer zone and nearby community forests, and their members will be trained in resource monitoring and methods of sustainable harvesting.
Landscape view from Bridim village, Rasuwa
The project team is considering ways to help conserve local knowledge of the medicinal uses of the plants, especially for health care (local people and pilgrims). Initially, ESON will concentrate on training and helping traditional healers to organize their herbal formulations used for the most common health problems, such as altitude sickness, diarrhoea, headache and fever.
Working closely with the authorities of the national park, ESON is further considering the establishment of a medicinal plant information centre at the headquarters of the national park at Dhunche. This lies in the core area of the park (Khamjing) close to the famous pilgrim site of Gosainkunda. This information centre will be designed to disseminate awareness about the medicinal plants and their conservation. Visitors to the centre – communities, tourists and pilgrims – will be informed about the conservation hazards that can result from the collection of these plants, as well as providing information on relevant laws and regulations, including lists of species that are banned for collection.