Plants have bioactive compounds that are used to cure various aliments of humans and animals. 80% of Pakistani population depend on traditional phytomedicines for treatment of minor and some major diseases. Among 6000 flowering species in Pakistan, 600 plant species are of therapeutical properties. Due to high cost and unavailability of allopathic medicines, especially in rural areas, traditional healers prescribe phytotherapy for various diseases from neurological to dermatological and stomach to gynecological. According a clinical trial study in 2021, Nigella sativa is proved to be very effective for treatment of Covid-19. Such treatments are supposed to be most effective by the native people.
According to a recent study, a total of 54 plant families were found to be used in various diseases, of which the highest use was of Solanaceae, Asteraceae, Lamiaceae, Papaveraceae, Poaceae, Caprifoliaceae, Cucurbitaceae, Rhamnaceae, and Rosaceae. Majority which are found in Bahawalpur, Swat, Muzaffarabad, Malakand, Bahawalnagar, Dir, Gilgat, Sarghoda, Dera ghazi khan and Jhelum. Estimates show that 61.15%, herbs, 22.33% trees, 11.65% shrubs, and 4.85% climbers have medicinal properties. According to the part used of plant, whole plant, leaves, fruits, roots, seeds, and flowers can be used effectively as remedies.
Pakistan’s chiefly exportable crops are rice and cotton while only citruses and mangoes are exported out of fruits. There is a need to understand the export potential of undiscovered and wild plants. Pakistan exports medicinal plants and extracts to India, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Srilanka, Japan, UAE, Europe, Iran, Turkey, Germany, Scotland, Dubai, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China and Malaysia. Being an agricultural economy, large scale cultivation of curative flora can provide a major boost to the foreign exchange of the country.
Major issues related to cultivation and export of medicinal flora can address the sudden climate change theses past two decades resulting in floods, loss of native species, invasive species, pest infestations, salinity, waterlogging, longer winter period and shorter growing seasons. Despite the successful growth of a species, almost all curative flora in Pakistan are collected from wild and local collectors are unaware of the proper collection and preservation methods.
Similarly in some areas, the over-cultivation and use of the local medicinal plants by native people have resulted in the extinction of many such species while some others are endangered including 64 medicinal plants some of which are even extinct now.
Moreover, non-availability of planting materials and un-assured marketing are also major constraints. Currently, the stakeholders are not compliant with the International standards and guidelines as well as quality and safety regulations. According to a recent joint report by Planning Commission of Pakistan and CABI (Center and Agriculture and Biosciences International), the post-harvest losses in these commodities plants are high (20-40%) and processing are inefficient which deteriorates the quality.
The major components of the future strategy (2020-2025) for development will be oriented to the Research and Development supporting National Agricultural Research System (NARS). It is supposed to address the stakeholder’s issues in an organized way through developing improved cultivars and technologies for production, processing and marketing. As a part of policy and strategy, it is also proposed to establish Pakistan Spices and Medicinal Plants Development Board (PSMPDB). After developing the mechanism of the PSMPDB, the strategies and plans will be initiated to strengthen the current stakeholder clusters of medicinal plants e.g., Cumin. The activities proposed are supposed to be achieved in five years’ time frame with a total budget of US$1.6 million, 73% of which is expected to come from the public sector funding for initiating ethnobotanical research on medicinal plants, capacity building of stakeholders and stimulating the use of modern processing units and further development of such units. It is expected that these inductions will encourage the private sector to obtain the remaining 27% investment.
Pir Mehr Ali Shah
Arid Agriculture University