Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Program
Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Program
Improving livelihoods and ecosystems in Nepal’s rural mountain communities since 2001.HIMALAYAS, NEPAL: By training highland farmers in sustainable agriculture methods, our Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) Program offers a profitable alternative to traditional wild harvesting. This way of farming is helping mountain communities develop better livelihoods and a way out of poverty while also restoring fragile, local environments. The Mountain Institute’s MAPs Program focuses on cultivation and conservation. It currently encompasses 100 villages in mountainous districts of Eastern, Central and Far-Western Nepal. Since 2001 we’ve trained over 18,000 farmers in Dhading, Rasuwa, Gorkha Ilam, Sankhuwasabha, Taplejung, and Panchthar districts and in parts of Nepal’s Karnali region. (Link to our new MAPs Program brochure.)
Our ProgramFor centuries local people have used medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) to heal ailments and have traded them for cash income to buy everyday necessities and to celebrate festivals. The MAPs trade has been a part of subsistence livelihoods in Nepal’s mountain villages for a very long time. But in the last few decades, the intense pressure from wild harvesting increased, causing a threat to these plant species’ survival. Working in partnership with remote mountain communities, our goal is to protect fragile mountain environments by improving local livelihoods and giving a specific alternative to unsustainable wild collecting. Our MAPs Program has been successful in that effort and we aim to expand to more mountain districts.
The ChallengeHarvesting medicinal and aromatic plants from wild areas is an age-old practice in Nepal’s mountains. As key ingredients in Ayurvedic medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine, these valuable plants have been transported and traded across boundaries for centuries. But the activities often associated with unsustainable collecting—-grazing livestock in the forest while harvesting plants and hunting—-can have a devastating effect on fragile mountain environments. When farmers can grow these valuable plants on private land and sell them for cash, they no longer need to rely on wild harvesting. This gives wild areas a chance to regenerate and saves wild plants from being depleted. Conserving wild medicinal plants will help to keep the entire forest and pastureland ecosystem intact. Wildlife and humans–upstream and down–benefit from a healthier ecosystem.
Our ApproachWe believe the best way to reduce poverty and encourage gender equity in mountain regions is through a sustainable development approach that integrates livelihoods with environmental and cultural concerns. Done right, mountain lives are improved, communities remain vibrant, and people downhill and downstream also benefit.
When considering a new area, we start by assessing potential. The first step is to conduct a reconnaissance and feasibility study to understand the climate, geography, ecology and socio-economic characteristics of the potential sites. We also assess current conditions—prices and value chain—for local medicinal and aromatic plants markets. Based on this study, and on the interests of area farmers, specific villages are chosen to implement TMI’s MAPs program.
Next, we conduct village-level meetings to build relationships and trust with local people. During these meetings, farmers are selected based on their interests, commitment, and suitability of the land to which they have access. “MAPs Farmers Groups” are then formed in each village. These groups take on the informal role of community-based monitoring. Forming such groups helps TMI conduct periodic reviews, and assists in identifying any problems. Farmers Groups also help develop solutions, as needed, in a collaborative manner. By working with local NGOs as partners, we then conduct specialized trainings and workshops with new, local farmers.
Check out our MAPs Program video for more details.
SolutionsTMI invests in mountain people and provides step-by-step training for growing MAPs. Beyond direct training sessions, TMI also sponsors site visits so that new farmers can learn from established MAPs farmers in other districts. During the past five years, over 60 farmers from Rasuwa, Dhading, Gorkha and Sankhuwasabha districts visited successful MAPs farms in Ilam in Eastern Nepal where TMI’s MAPs Program was launched in 2001. This farmer-to-farmer approach has been a source of motivation and inspiration for newer farmers, giving them a chance to learn directly from their peers.
Our MAPs program has established and strengthened four MAPs Farmers Cooperatives with nine sub-units. Together with our local partners, TMI offers specialized training for co-op members that covers marketing, networking, quality control, value addition and processing, plus business development, planning and management.
We also help provide and distribute “MAPs Farmer Identity Cards” and “Product Origin Certificates” to many farmers. These official certificates serve as proof that the farmers’ MAPs products were grown on private land and not harvested from the wild. These certificates also help farmers get a break on government taxes when they sell and transport their products.
ResultsMAPs Program – By the Numbers:
- 18,000 highland farmers are now trained in MAPs cultivation.
- Farmers are growing MAPs in 11 mountain districts of Central, Eastern and Far-Western Nepal.
- 13 plant species are currently being cultivated.
- 35-40% of trained MAPs farmers are women.
- 2,500 hectares of private or degraded land are under cultivation.
- The 2016 combined earnings from MAPs farmers from these districts totaled US $4,300,000.
- The income of individual farmers ranges from $300 to $35,000 per year.
- 2 farmers made over $35,000 each.
- 1,024 MAPs farmers (40% women) participated in advanced level training in 2016 and 2017.
- 4 MAPs Farmers Co-operatives with 9 sub-units were established and strengthened.
- 14 MAPs storage depots and collection centers established, both mobile and temporary.
- Over 460 farmers received official MAPs Farmer Identity Cards and Product Origin Certificates.
Supporters & Next StepsDemand for medicinal plants from the Indian and Chinese markets far exceeds current supply and includes more than 100 species. We see a clear path to scaling up to 50,000 farmers in Nepal alone. What we have learned in Nepal can be deployed in other remote mountain regions. In fact, we have already started similar work in the Peruvian Andes.
Next steps include sharing the expertise we’ve developed in MAPs cultivation, harvesting, and marketing more broadly. We’ve given direct and indirect technical assistance to partner organizations and projects within and beyond our current districts. TMI’s main MAPs expert, Karma Bhutia, has served as an advisor to the Himalayan Amchi Association, taught 200 farmers in Sikkim, and has been invited to provide technical advice in Mustang district and in Bhutan.
Our MAPS Program is very grateful to many organizations and partners! The list below reflects recent and ongoing support:
- LaGuntza Foundation
- Fondation Pro Victimis
- The Dudley Foundation
- Baker Brooks Foundation
- Health, Education, Empowerment and Development in Dhading and Gorkha – HEED Nepal
- Rural Tourism and Environmental Education Society of Rasuwa – RTEES Nepal
- Tribhuvan University of Nepal
- Upper Arun Valley Development and Conservation Society in Sankhuwasabha