AROMATIC AND MEDICINAL PLANTS RESEARCH STATION, ODAKKALI
AGROTECHNOLOGY OF MEDICINAL PLANTS
Most of medicinal plants, even today, are collected from wild. The continued commercial exploitation of these plants has resulted in receding the population of many species in their natural habitat. Vacuum is likely to occur in the supply of raw plant materials that are used extensively by the pharmaceutical industry as well as the traditional practitioners. Consequently, cultivation of these plants is urgently needed to ensure their availability to the industry as well as to people associated with traditional system of medicine. If timely steps are not taken for their conservation, cultivation and mass propagation, they may be lost from the natural vegetation for ever. In situ conservation of these resources alone cannot meet the ever increasing demand of pharmaceutical industry. It is, therefore, inevitable to develop cultural practices and propagate these plants in suitable agroclimatic regions. Commercial cultivation will put a check on the continued exploitation from wild sources and serve as an effective means to conserve the rare floristic wealth and genetic diversity.
It is necessary to initiate systematic cultivation of medicinal plants in order to conserve biodiversity and protect endangered species. In the pharmaceutical industry, where the active medicinal principle cannot be synthesised economically, the product must be obtained from the cultivation of plants. Systematic conservation and large scale cultivation of the concerned medicinal plants are thus of great importance. Efforts are also required to suggest appropriate cropping patterns for the incorporation of these plants into the conventional agricultural and forestry cropping systems. Cultivation of this type of plants could only be promoted if there is a continuous demand for the raw materials. There are at least 35 major medicinal plants that can be cultivated in India and have established demand for their raw material or active principles in the international trade (table). It is also necessary to develop genetically superior planting material for assured uniformity and desired quality and resort to organised cultivation to ensure the supply of raw material at growers end. Hence, small scale processing units too have to be established in order that the farmer is assured of the sale of raw material. Thus, cultivation and processing should go hand in hand in rural areas.
In order to initiate systematic cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants high yielding varieties have to be selected (table 8). In the case of wild plants, their demonstration would require careful development work. Sometimes high yielding varieties have also to be developed by selective breeding or clonal micropropagation. The selected propagation materials have to be distributed to the farmer either through nurseries or seed banks. Systematic cultivation needs specific cultural practices and agronomical requirements. These are species specific and are dependent on soil, water and climatic conditions. Hence research and development work has to be done to formulate Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) which should include proper cultivation techniques, harvesting methods, safe use of fertilizers and pestisides and waste disposal.
Table 8. New varieties of medicinal plants developed in India (Gupta, 1993)
Taking into consideration the requirements of the plants selected, an agrotechnological package has to be developed to suit the infrastructural facilities available. Research and development work has also to be carried out in the following areas (Silva, 1997).
1. Optimisation of agronomical conditions for cultivation
2. Training in safe fertiliser and pesticide use
3. Development of fast growing varieties with disease resistance
4. Determination of maturity and time of harvesting
5. No. of economically viable harvests
6. Methods of harvesting.
Decision on a limited scale of exploitation of medicinal plants from wild sources has to be based on accurate inventories about the kinds of plant resources, abundance and the feasibility of harvesting without damage to the ecosystem. In case potential candidates identified are not abundantly available, cultivation of them through agroforestry and community forestry programmes will have to be initiated. In this regard, development of industries based on medicinal plants can be included as a priority area as niche markets for these are already available.
In the recent times, agricultural scenario is witnessing a trend towards organic farming. It is seen that agricultural products produced through organic farming, without using any inorganic fertilisers and pesticides, fetch high demand and price in the international market.. Organic farming has its root in Nature and it makes use of only organic materials. It observes and learns from nature. It believes that soil has life and cares about its fertility. It protects the flora and fauna of the soil. Organic farming is not for a single crop but it envisages the entire farm. The main objective of organic farming includes mulching, crop rotation, cover cropping green manuring, animal waste, composting, bio-gas slurry, biofertilisers and organic recycling. The energy sources are windmills, solar panels, small-scale hydroelectric projects and biogas. The changeover from inorganic to organic farming is to be carried out only systematically and carefully. Organic farming can be adopted in crops too by decreasing the dose of inorganic fertilisers rather than an immediate removal and adopting organic farming practices timely and correctly.
Farmers have to be trained in all aspects of organic farming including obtaining certification from associations that do the monitoring, starting from cultivation to final harvesting. As chemicals cannot be used as fertilizers and pest control agents, the cultivation is labour intensive requiring labour for weeding and other farming activities. Hence, developing countries, which have cheap labour and unpolluted land, can opt for organic cultivation. Organic manure has to be prepared which leads to environment friendly methods of organic waste disposal. Organic farming will reduce environment pollution, toxic effects due to use of pesticides and minerals and problems of biodiversity conservation.
The trend for green products is also increasing and it is expected that the industrialised countries will insist on ecolabelling of products in tune with ISO 14000 as a condition of import. This will mean that any product produced has to be certified to ensure that no ecological damage what so ever has been caused during the production process.
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