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World Health Day 2022: Celebrating Himalayan Plants that Support Local Livelihoods, Health and Biodiversity

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Jatamansi in flowering stage

Image courtesy of ANSAB

Wild plants are an indispensable resource for human and environmental health but are under threat. More than 26,000 species from all corners of the globe are used for medicinal and aromatic purposes. They are found in everyday supermarket products like teas and beauty products like shampoos, but of those assessed, one in ten species are threatened with extinction in the wild.

Many plant species are harvested from the wild by local low-income communities. Without well-managed and sustainable wild harvesting, the reliability of harvests of these species and the communities that depend on them can suffer. Communities may even be displaced due to the impacts of climate change on crops for food, medicine and income. A prime example is the communities that harvest Jatamansi from the wild.

Anastasiya Timoshyna, TRAFFIC Senior Program Coordinator for Sustainable Trade

With an aromatic amber-coloured essential oil, Jatamansi or Nard/Spikenard Nardostachys grandiflora syn. Jatamansi, grown in the Himalayas, has been used in religious ceremonies, perfumes and traditional medicines for thousands of years. Nowadays, between 100 and 500 tons of Jatamansi rhizomes are traded internationally each year for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.

“Wild-harvested medicinal and aromatic plants underpin Nepal’s traditional medicine systems and provide an essential source of income for over 300,000 low-income rural households in Nepal. The Jatamansi harvest alone provides at least 15,000 people with around 25% of their annual income,” said Anastasiya Timoshyna.

In recent decades, habitat loss and over-harvesting have caused Jatamansi to decline and raised concerns for the integrity of the wider ecosystem. Accordingly, Jatamansi has been included in CITES[i] Annex II and rated as Critically endangered on the IUCN Red List[ii].

But that does not mean that this vital source of income and the traditional practice of harvesting should stop.

“Our holistic approach to conservation is yielding positive results for the number of Jatamansi of Nepal in an environment that are critical habitats for rare and endangered flora and fauna and recognized as sensitive to climate change in IPCC Report on Climate Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerabilitysaid Anastasiya Timoshyna. “It’s about finding the right balance. Harvesting particular flora is also essential for local economies, which is why TRAFFIC worked closely with the Nepalese government to reformulate its 2017 CITES law which banned the trade of all CITES-listed species, including Jatamansi, and impacts household incomes that depend on wild harvesting.

Resource Mapping in Darchula, Northwest Nepal
Image courtesy of ANSAB

Between 2018 and 2021, TRAFFIC and ANSAB worked with collaborators[iii]the Government of Nepal and Community Forest User Groups (CFUG) through the Succeeding with CITES Sustainable and Fair Trade in Jatamansi from Nepal project.

By introducing the FairWild sustainability framework for the collection and trade of wild harvested plants, we have developed a system and demonstrated improved management of non-timber forest products [NTFPs] in two biodiversity-rich mountain districts of Nepal.

Puspa Ghimire, Director of Programs and Project Manager of ANSAB

Over 10,000 ha of forests and grasslands in Nepal’s Mugu and Jumla districts have been improved through the project, benefiting over 2,000 farmers, 44% of whom are women. A Nepalese company, Himalayan Bio Trade Ltd., has successfully achieved FairWild Certification Year 1 Performance Standard and can now offer Certified Jatamansi and other ingredients to the global market.

“Before this project, we [did not] know the proper methods of collecting Jatamansi and other NWFPs,” said Ms. Shreedevi Rawat, Jatamansi Harvester, Baghjale CFUG. “In addition to sustainable harvesting, we have learned about FairWild standards, social responsibility, fair trade and fair pricing…we also hope that [the project] will continue to work in these remote areas and provide technical knowledge on sustainable harvesting and good collection practices of Jatamansi and other NTFPs/MAPs [Medicinal Aromatic Plants] so that all members of the community benefit.

Mr. Ramesh Basnet, Chief Scientist, Department of Plant Resources Office – Jumla, said, “There is scope for extending FairWild certification to many wildlife species other than Jatamansi. The government is also working in these areas, and we are all ready to contribute proactively from the bottom of our hearts. Nepal’s community forestry offers an exemplary model that can be replicated around the world.

Global demand for wild herbal products continued to rise in 2020-2021 as herbal medicines were used to prevent and treat COVID-19. With growing demand, people (including returning overseas and urban migrants) have turned to wild Jatamansi harvesting as an alternative source of income during high unemployment.[iv].

Project launch workshop in Jumla November 2021
Image courtesy of ANSAB

Building on the successes of the master plan pilot project, TRAFFIC has created a continuation project: Himalayan Plants for People: Sustainable Trade for Biodiversity and Development, funded by the UK Government under the Darwin Initiative. Together with ANSAB and other collaborators, the project will support Nepal’s 35-year vision of “biodiversity conservation for healthy and resilient ecosystems and national prosperity”, set out in its national strategies and action plans. for biodiversity, and will contribute directly to seven[v] SDGs.

It is planned to put 25,000 ha of forests and grasslands under improved management by 2024, benefiting an additional 5,000 operators. Through the FairWild standard and certification system, it focuses on sustainable harvesting, trade and traceability for an extensive list of high altitude Himalayan species. These include high-value, high-conservation priority species such as Kutki (Neopicrorhiza scrophulariiflora) and Himalayan Fritillary (Fritillary cirrhosis). The project also intends to influence consumer markets in China and India – critical destinations for Nepalese non-timber forest products.

“These projects show how improving trade relations and the sustainable management of target species through local communities can benefit both human and environmental health. By giving people the tools and knowledge to manage the impacts of climate change and the drivers of biodiversity loss, species will be able to thrive, local communities will improve their households’ long-term income prospects, and projects will help deliver part of the core sustainable development goals,” said Anastasiya Timoshyna.

TRAFFIC believes that the sustainable use of wildlife, including plants, must be an essential part of the goals of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.