Kashmir may resume medicinal herb extraction

August 24th, 2011 - 3:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Jammu, Aug 24 (IANS) Jammu and Kashmir is considering lifting a ban on the extraction of rare medicinal herbs as residents say they are losing out on valuable business even as neighbouring states cultivate them and imports from China have also got a boost.

Hundreds of people living in the remote mountainous forests of Kashmir used to earn their living by picking these herbs - some used to treat cancer, besides jaundice and other ailments - and selling them to pharmaceutical companies through agents in their area. But the state government imposed a ban in 2005, saying “they may go extinct and needed a rest period”.

Now voices are being raised against the ban, strongly enough for the government to consider its removal - though with some restrictions.

Forest Minister Altaf Ahmad agreed that the livelihood of hundreds of people living near the mountainous forests depended on herb picking. “In 2005, experts had advised that the herbs extraction needed some rest, lest they go extinct. We feel that time has come to lift this ban though with some restrictions,” Ahmad told IANS.

The remote mountainous forests in Jammu and Kashmir have rare and best quality herbs like dioscorea deltoida, valeriana wallichi, picrozia and podophyllum hexandrum, besides many others.

As herb picking and extraction flourished, a private entrepreneur established a herb processing unit in the mountainous town of Kishtwar, which is surrounded by mountains bearing these herbs.

Sanjay Gupta, the owner of the unit, said this was a means of employment for hundreds of poor people in the area.

“A minimum of 8,000 to 10,000 people living around Kishtwar were involved in this business. They could earn Rs.300-400 per day from herb extraction,” Gupta told IANS over phone from Kishtwar.

These herbs grow on the high mountains like in Paddar, Kishtwar, Doda and Bhaderwah, the neighbouring states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. But the Jammu and Kashmir herbs are top rated.

“Farmers in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are cultivating these herbs. The herbs do not get natural conditions when they are cultivated. This reduces the concentration of the active profile and principle of the herbs. This is the reason that naturally growing herbs in Jammu and Kashmir are of best quality,” said Harish Chander of the biology department in Jammu University.

Gupta said: “The quality of these herbs in China is somewhat close to that in Jammu and Kashmir. So the ban gave a boost to the import of these herbs from there.”

The herbs from Jammu and Kashmir were used in medicines curing cancer besides fever, jaundice and many infections. So they were used in antibiotics, antispasmodics and steroids besides many other medicines.

Chander said American tests have rated podophyllum hexandrum of Jammu and Kashmir as the best in the world for anti-cancer drugs.

(Binoo Joshi can be contacted at binoo.j@ians.in)

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