NC: Given the increasing rate of extraction and collection of herbal plant species annually for manufacturing traditional medicine in the country, the health minister was asked  how the government would ensure its sustainability at the National Council’s question hour session yesterday.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said that lack of proper drying technology and collection times coinciding with peak monsoon contribute to wastage of herbs and deterioration of its quality.

Lingshi in Thimphu and Langthel in Trongsa were selected as collection and drying centres for high and low altitude medicinal plants to minimise wastage of herbal plants besides maintaining production of quality traditional medicine. Management of medicinal plants, introducing alternative collection sites and cultivation and domestication of the medicinal plants are some of the government’s initiatives to ensure sustainability of the herbal plants.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that community based medicinal plants sustainable management associations have also been established in two gewogs of Lingshi. “Only those registered as local community residents are authorised to collect and sell herbs to Mejong Sorig Pharmaceutical either at its drying centres or at the factory,” he said.

Lyonpo also said that medicinal plant collection was one of the first economical activities initiated and sustained for highland inhabitants before collection and sale of cordyceps was legalised.

The house was also informed that Lingshi has been a collection centre for high altitude medicinal plants since 1967 with more than 70 percent of high altitude medicinal plants collected from Lingshi. Similarly, other highland areas are being explored for sustainable harvest and conservation of the herbal plants.

The minister also informed the house that there is no issue of sustainability of medical plants in low altitude areas for now as the plants are widely available.

In ensuring long-term sustainability of medicinal plants, farmers are encouraged to cultivate or domesticate medicinal herbs. However, there are some plant species that cannot be domesticated given the difficult terrain and altitude constrains.

The minister was also questioned on what the government is doing to encourage interested farmers in collection and manufacturing of traditional medicines.

In response, Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that trainings on sustainable collection of medicinal plants are being carried out to encourage interested farmers to collect and manufacture traditional medicines. Menjong Sorig Pharmaceutical of the traditional medicines services department has been conducting farmers’ workshops and trainings that include identification of medicinal plants, post-harvest care and sustainable harvest methods.

In all, 484 households in various dzongkhags were trained between 2010 and 2015. On an average, each training costs about Nu 50,000.

Lyonpo also said that collection of cordyceps was more lucrative compared to collection of medicinal plants. Therefore, highlanders are reluctant to collect medicinal plants affecting the supply of high altitude medicinal plants. “This is one of the challenges in collection of high altitude medicinal plants,” he said.

Trongsa’s councilor Tharchen also asked about the government’s long-term plan for the future of traditional medicine and herbal treatment in the country including outsourcing of processing parts of traditional medicines to private entrepreneurs in the country.

Establishment of research and herb gardens, cultivation and domestication of rare plant species, encouraging private entrepreneurs to establish therapy service centres to support tourism, and introducing collaborations and cross referrals between modern and traditional medicines are some of the long-term milestones of traditional medicines and herbal treatment in the country.

A total of 124 varieties of high altitudes medicinal plants and 114 low altitude medicinal plants are collected for production of essential traditional medicines and commercial products. On an average, a total of 14.6 metric tonnes of medicinal plants worth Nu 92.5 million were collected in the last five years.

Lyonpo also informed the house that requirement of essential traditional medicine is increasing. However, given the small factory size, unavailability of raw materials and limited human resources, Mejong Sorig Pharmaceutical produces less than 50 percent of the total requirement. Currently it produces 95 essential traditional medicines and 14 commercial products.

There are 60 traditional medicine units in the country today including the National Institute of Traditional Medicine. There are 52 drungtshos and 97 menpas.

Dechen Tshomo