The trading of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) is a traditional means of livelihood in rural areas along the Trans-Himalayan Silk Road and is an important source of revenue for the government of Nepal. Researchers estimate that the officially recorded export value of Nepalese MAPs is many times less than the amount actually exported. MAPs in Nepal are harvested by individuals mostly from the wild and are channelled through intermediate actors within a confusing policy environment. An official permit is required to collect ‘non-timber forest products’ and the Department of Forestry is responsible for regulating the MAPs trade in Nepal by issuing permits and collecting revenue. The hidden economy and informal practices are thus more likely to be used in sectors where permissions are necessary for harvesting, locally transporting, and exporting any commodity.
Keywords: Trans-Himalayan Silk Road, medicinal and aromatic plants, informal practices, Nepal
Medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) are defined as plants, mushrooms, and lichens, or parts derived from them, that are traded to produce pharmaceuticals, dietary supplement products, natural health products, cosmetics, and foodstuffs (Gurung and Pyakurel, 2017; Smith-Hall et al., 2018). The global export market of MAPs was valued at around US$2.6 billion in 2016 (World Bank, 2018), with China and India being the major players (Khan and Rauf, 2014). Nepal, as a biodiverse country with a wide range of climate and altitudinal variations (FAO, 2009), is also rich in growing medicinal plants. The trade in medicinal plants is economically significant to many rural livelihoods (Olsen and Larsen, 2003) and is an important source of revenue for the government (Phoboo, Devkota, and Jha, 2006). But only a small amount of these MAPs is consumed in Nepalese domestic markets (Chapagain et al., 2019); the bulk are exported to India, China, and abroad (Olsen, 2005; Ghimire et al., 2016; MOC, 2016; Pyakurel, Sharma, and Smith- Hall, 2018; World Bank, 2018; Pyakurel et al., 2019; Smith-Hall et al., 2019).
MAPs are highly sought after in China and India (Khan and Rauf, 2014; World Bank, 2018) due to their high levels of bioactive compounds and medicinal efficiency (Phoboo, Devkota, and Jha, 2006).