The cultivation of medicinal plants can bring prosperity to the state and also raise the living standard of people living in far flung areas but promoting awareness seems to be a bitter pill for the policy makers. Hamidullah Dar reports.
Despite having the potential to transform state’s economy, policy makers are according little preference to plantation of the medicinal plants. Experts say Jammu and Kashmir, which has one of the highest per capita consumption of medicines in India, has huge potential to grow raw material for pharmaceuticals.
Among the rich flora of J&K, about 572 species have been reported to be of medicinal importance. Out of these around 555 plant species of 109 families have been identified and most are being commercially exploited. Over 100 are endemic to Kashmir.
However, 39 endemic medicinal plants of Kashmir figure on the list of threatened species of which 11 have been classified as endangered, 16 rare and the rest vulnerable.
Though growing medicinal plants fetch good money, very few farmers plant them. Most of the supplies are managed by collecting wild forest produce in upper reaches of Kashmir.
To provide seed and saplings to prospective farmers, the government has established a nursery of medicinal plants at Dadrembagh, Ganderbal. High value medicinal plants like Valeriana wallichi (Mushkebal in Kashmiri), Podophyllum emodi (Wan wangun), Berberis aristata (kawe dach), Althea officinalis (sazah posh), Discorea deltoidae (krech) and lavandula are cultivated at the nursery for supplying to drug manufacturing companies besides for free distribution of seed to farmers through Horticulture department. However, there are very few takers.
“It is an irony that farmers and people residing in hilly areas do not come forward to cultivate medicinal plants on their lands… If these plants are cultivated on a two kanal patch of land, the returns can feed a family of five. Take Podophylum, which is used in making anti cancer drug, it fetches Rs 85,000 per kg and two kanals of land can fetch a farmer a minimum of three kilograms a year,” says Ghulam Mohammad Dar, Supervisor of the nursery.
At a time when unemployment is the ubiquitous problem in the valley, government seems tackling it in a wrong way, opines a divisional forest officer wishing not to be named. “If government takes interest in harnessing the indigenous resources, there would not be any poverty in the state, especially in Kashmir. Our environment is conducive for cultivation of medicinal plants which can get us rid of unemployment. Besides, lot of land is available for doing so, only if government starts a campaign,” says he.
Some of the species give high yields and have a huge demand in the market. Discorea deltoidea, the source of diosgenin that is used in manufacture of contraceptives and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatic carditis, renal diseases and allergies, give high yields and can be grown in almost anywhere in Kashmir.
Sacks full of seeds of various medicinal plants lying at the Dadrembagh nursery say a lot about lack of awareness among farmers and the government’s lackadaisical attitude towards promoting cultivation of such plants and herbs.
“Almost nobody comes here for seeds and plants. We have seeds that if sown wildly can be sufficient for an area equaling Ganderbal district but these seeds will rot here for want of sowing,” says Dar.
Interestingly the state government launched a publicity campaign for Amla plantation but did no such thing to promote medicinal plants. Even the annual amount allotted for the wages of labourers working in the nursery spread over a slopy area of 60 kanals is just Rs 32,000.
There are some cultivation farms in different areas of the valley but the scale at which the cultivation being undertaken is meager.
In Machhil area of the Kupwara district some local were allowed to cultivate Susuria lapa (Koeth) but they allegedly collect the same from the forests and forward it to the concerned department (which earlier was Indian System of Medicines and now Forest department) to fulfill their quota. Also hilltops at few places like Wangath, Naranag and Gund in Ganderbal, Daksum in Islamabad district have been earmarked for the transplantation of medicinal plants. “We have planted and sowed medicinal plants on many high altitude hilltops so that shepherds and their herds cannot reach there. These are places where we reach at around 12.00 in the noon after setting out early in the dawn and have to stop the work at 3.00 p.m. to return to our homes. If such cultivation is done in the plains the results will be many times better as utmost care can be taken in their development,” says Dar.
Ghulam Hassan Malik, additional District Medical Officer (ISM) Srinagar admits that so far little attention has been given towards promoting the cultivation of these plants. However, he says that his department and horticulture department are now taking keen interest in promotion of these plants. “It is a vast field which is awaiting exploitation at mass scale. Himachal Pradesh with somewhat same climate like Kashmir is supplying 40 percent of the Ayurvedic and Unani medicines to the country. The sector has absorbed almost one million unemployed people there and their standard of living has gone up. We are trying to harness this resource and in due course of time, I think, people will forget about laying apple orchards and will prefer medicinal plants for its sheer demand and profit,” says Malik.
But in absence of mass publicity and public awareness, it seems a distant dream. Farmer Ghulam Nabi Bhat of nearby Sarch village doesn’t know anything about the nursery. He says, “Frankly speaking, I do not even know there is a nursery in the vicinity that provides medicinal plants and seeds. I will definitely go for it if it is beneficial and gives good returns.”