The contents of this site are being integrated into the main ICIMOD site
Home News & Articles MAPIS  Projects  Event Calendar Partners
Member LoginContact Us    
 HOME / MAPPA Overview


madredeus torrents


Plants have always been the basis of life on earth and a steady source of health and livelihood for majority of its population. The use of plant resources for medicinal and other purposes is one of a number of practices developed by ancient people. Plant derived medicines are used in all civilizations and cultures. Hence, plants have always played a key role in health care systems worldwide. In most developing countries, the indigenous modes of herbal treatment are a part of the culture and the dominant method of healing therapy. These remedies, with a considerable extent of effectiveness, are socially accepted, economically viable and, mostly, are the only available source.  Plants used in traditional medicine, therefore, have a critical role in the maintenance of health all over the world. 

Plants have always been the principal means of therapy since prehistoric times. Before the emergence the so-called modern system or allopathy, all systems medical systems were what we now call traditional. More than two billion people on earth depend on traditional herbal medicines that have been significantly contributing to their primary health care needs.  

Medicinal Plants is not a taxonomic but a use-group of plants. Any plant when used in any system of medicine or healing procedure can be categorized as medicinal plant. Aromatic plants are, on the other hand, plants containing volatile oil, mostly having aromatic flavor which may be, but is also not only limited to, medicinal plants. Both the two groups are these days collectively termed as ‘Medicinal and Aromatic Plants’ (MAPs). The various other uses of medicinal plants and their products are in the form of food, fatty oil, essential oil, spices, condiment, fibre, dye, tan, gum, resin, etc. As majority of these plants and their products are also used for medicinal purposes, recently some scholars have considered all economically useful plants under one umbrella, the medicinal plants. 


The great majority of species of medicinal plants which are the dominant mode of therapy in almost all developing countries and that are used in folk or ethnomedicine, are collected from the wild.  The WHO has listed 20,000 species of medicinal plants used in different parts of the globe.  Other estimates indicate the number to range between 35,000 and 70,000 worldwide (Bhattarai and Karki, 2004).  Considering the extent of fieldwork ongoing in different parts of the developing countries among various tribes, ethnic groups, and other indigenous communities generating additional information on indigenous medicinal plants, the number of plants being used in medicine is likely to increase considerably in the future. 

Many countries, especially in Asia and Africa, have officially recognized the use of plant-based traditional medicine in their health care delivery systems. These organized or codified traditional medical systems employ relatively few species, viz. 500-600 in traditional Chinese medicine, 1100 in Tibetan medicine (Sowangpa), 1500 in the Ayurveda, 450 in the Homoeopathy, 342 in the Unani, and 328 in the Siddha systems. Also, the various plants used in these systems happens to be common both species-wise as well as disease-wise in most of the cases.


A number of drugs of the modern medical system or allopathy were discovered from plants based on their ethnobotanical uses.  Further, many other pure constituents obtained from plant sources are used as drugs in modern medicine. Today, there are about 119 pure chemical substances extracted from higher plants and in use in allopathic pharmacopoeias throughout the world. 

Majority of the medicinal plants are primarily used in traditional healing systems.  Their potentiality to enrich the modern system is high, although less exploited so far.  Consequently, one needs to consider every plant as a medicinal plant, recorded or potential, and its conservation and management should be prioritized. 


The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that traditional, largely plant-based, medical systems continue to provide primary health care to about 80% of the world’s population. Therefore, the aim of WHO is to improve its quality, efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Considering the coverage and effectiveness of the various systems of traditional medicine throughout the world, the Alma-Ata Declaration of the WHO (1978) proposed the theme ‘Health for all by the year 2000’, the commitment being reaffirmed by the International Consultation on Conservation of Medicinal Plants, organized by WHO/IUCN/WWF in Chiang Mai, Thailand, popularly known as the Chiang Mai Declaration (1988), with emphasis on the primary health care approach and the principles of conservation and sustainable development, outlined in the World Conservation Strategy. Many of the challenges for medicinal plant conservation identified in Chiang Mai in 1988 remain. However, in its strategy document (2000-05), WHO has included the traditional medicine on a broader category of Complimentary and Alternate Medicine (CAM).  

A number of major developments in medicinal plant conservation and management took place in the 1990s. The decade also witnessed rapid growth in the development of incentive-based conservation and development tools that reward responsible conservation and business practices. In 1992, the majority of the world’s nations agreed to the establishment of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which currently hosts 187 parties and is endorsed by 168 countries. The CBD emphasized the need for an ecosystem-based approach to conservation and stressed the importance of benefit sharing with respect to the use of genetic resources. Meanwhile in 1998, FRLHT convened a conference in Bangalore, India with a number of key medicinal plant stakeholders, resulting in the “Bangalore Declaration”.  This declaration emphasized the need to support and revitalize local health care traditions and their associated knowledge, the necessity of grassroots involved in medicinal plant conservation, the importance of equity issues, including a respect for intellectual property rights. 

Further reference to a holistic medicinal plant conservation approach was later laid out in the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, adopted by Parties to the CBD in 2002. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) came into force in 1993 and has been ratified by over 168 countries.   

Recently, the international community’s approach to medicinal plants has broadened much over time, gradually shifting from emphasis on conservation and wild collection to sustainable management and contemporary cultivation. At the same time, various crucial issues related with medicinal plants and traditional medical practices, such as Traditional Knowledge Systems, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), Patent Rights (PRs), Benefit-sharing, Bio-prospects and Bio-piracy, trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property rights (TRIPS), etc., have been increasingly associated with medicinal plants and plant-based knowledge systems and traditions. 

In the broader sense, medicinal plants can also contribute to the realization of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) through more general impacts associated with their economic value.  Especially for people at the bottom of economic ladder, medicinal plants represent a new economic opportunity with the potential to find a more adequate standard of living and help disadvantaged people break free of ‘the poverty trap’.  The ways in which the wise use of medicinal plants can contribute to specific goals of the MDG are improving general health, empowering women and disadvantaged groups, and reversing the loss of environment resources. Endorsed by countries at the UN Millennium Summit of 2000, the MDGs consists of 8 goals under which fall 18 specific targets and 40 indicators in areas such as poverty alleviation, gender equity, health, education, environmental sustainability and international partnership. The MDG set targets for improving human wellbeing in the South by the year 2015. 


The Sustainable Use of Biodiversity Programme Initiatives (SUB) PI was created by IDRC in 1994. This initiated the Medicinal Plants Programme in IDRC that supported research and development activities in South Asia through its International Medicinal Plants Network (IMPN) initiated with support from the Ford Foundation. 

The activities of (SUB) PI remained functional during the period 1994-1998 and included the search for Flagship Projects and Champion Partners. It initiated the entry of Action Research and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in IDRC Programming through the IMPN, the predecessor of MAPPA. The major activities experienced during the course included the expansion of stakeholders in the Network that was supported to a larger extent by IMPN Partner Consultation on May 1995 in Calicut, Kerala, India; co-opting of new and powerful partners during the Medicinal Plant Industry Meeting in New Delhi, India in 1997, organization of Expert Consultation on Medicinal Plants Species Prioritization for South Asia in 1997 in New Delhi, India, highlighting of IMPN through the stakeholders’ meeting during the Bangalore Conference in 1998 in Bangalore, India; etc. 


IDRC-MAPPA in collaboration with WWF-India, organized an Expert Consultation on Medicinal Plants Species Prioritization for South Asia on 22-23 Sept. 1997 in New Delhi, India. The participants included researchers and experts from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The objective was to examine key issues facing the medicinal plant sector in south Asia, focusing on the rationale and need for selecting general criteria for the prioritization of medicinal and aromatic plant species used for livelihood support and primary health care from a regional perspective.

Experts from each participating country provided a list of priority species in their respective countries, viz. Bangladesh (28); Central India (40); Nepal (18); Pakistan (18); and Sri Lanka (26).  A multi-disciplinary approach was adopted and a regionally acceptable consensus was reached with regard to the five commonly applicable criteria like: high commercial demand and local uses; potentials for integrating in the farming systems; local level value addition and processing potentials; wide distribution and easy availability of genetic materials; and important in terms of genetic resources and biodiversity conservation. Finally, a list of thirty priority species for South Asia was selected by the participating experts (Annex 1; Karki and Williams, 1999).


To develop, provide, and promote wise practices in the MAP sector by safeguarding the ecosystem for the poor and marginalized people in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan and South Asian regions.


To generate MAP-based additional income and employment opportunities for improvement in the quality of life of people in fragile uplands of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region on sustainable basis.


To develop, provide, and promote appropriate wise practices, critical information, sound technologies, ethical trade & enterprise activities, appropriate conservation and development solutions, and proper institutionalization to benefit women, poor, indigenous people and the environment.


The general objective of MAPPA is to enhance the sustainable and equitable commercialization strategies and technologies, and improve options for safe and effective health care through:

-         honouring the age-old traditional knowledge (TK)-based traditional medicine systems in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan and the South Asian regions

-         providing improved options for safe and effective primary health care by strengthening MAP based traditional healing practices; 

-         developing strategies, viable options, approaches and methods  through research to balance conservation with subsistence use and commercial demands;

-         promoting collaboration and information sharing among countries of South Asia and HKH for developing appropriate MAP based conservation and livelihood improvement strategies;

-         enhancing quality and market gains through organic production, local value-addition, enterprise development, and improved market information and access for increased income generation at the local level; and

-         providing networking support by facilitating communication, coordination, collaboration, and information dissemination among different stakeholders.


Through strategic research, collaboration and networking, MAPPA plans to develop strategies, methods and options for sustainable conservation and use of MAP resources. The research program covers three principal themes:

a.       Conservation of biodiversity through sustainable use;

b.      Expansion of livelihood opportunities; and

c.      Safe and effective traditional medicine system for primary health care.

Identified research areas include locally-based conservation methods, sustainable and equitable commercialization strategies and technologies, and improved options for safe and effective health care systems.  Research activities will strive to complement and build on on-going research work to more comprehensively addressed research problems, generate more effective research results, and accomplish greater impacts.


-         Promotes participatory NRM research,

-         Integrates research with action,

-         Supports learning systems,

-         Develops management approach to project activities,

-         Links micro-impacts to macro-level development, and

-         Up-scales research efforts.


MAPPA’s Phase I (1998-2002) projects were focused in 5 South Asian countries including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (Annex 2).

MAPPA has contributed, partly or wholly, in the organization of a number of international, regional and national conferences, seminars, workshops, training programmes, study tours and exchange visits. It has also accomplished a number of commissioned studies, assisted in the publication of medicinal plant-related books, proceedings, journals and newsletters.


MAPPA is currently under the second phase of its programming and activities and its projects are currently operational in India, Nepal , Pakistan and Sri Lanka. This phase also experienced the devolution of MAPPA to ICIMOD extending its territory to the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region.

ICIMOD’s institutional strengths, mission and vision makes ICIMOD and MAPPA a perfect fit. MAPPA and ICIMOD together form a unique combination of institutions with a mandate to address both national and regional biodiversity conservation and livelihood issues with mountain and rural focus. As a regional knowledge and management centres operating in partnership with several national organizations, ICIMOD-MAPPA has legitimate access to location specific options and institutional support. ICIMOD-MAPPA based on its focused work on medicinal plants can monitor, document, test and improve these options through regional adaptive trials and extend them throughout the region. They can also review and suggest policy reforms governing poor peoples’ access to and utilization of resources for generating locally gainful income and employment opportunities, alleviating rural poverty and promote sustainable conservation throughout the south Asian and HKH region.

Currently, based on research, development and management efforts carried out in different countries of the region together with knowledge and experiences accumulated in the MAP sector through CAMP workshops, trade and markets, and traditional herbal healing practices, a revised list is being developed including species prioritized for each individual country of the Hindu-Kush Himalayan Region.


-         Technical inputs combined with the age-old traditional knowledge produce an adaptive technology that is based on the cultural, social, environmental and economic factors that are relevant to the local population and, if adopted systematically, can improve livelihoods.

-         Sustainable management of MAPs/NTFPs requires ecological and economic linkages. Quantitative and qualitative information on MAP resource base in the wild provides a sound basis for designing management practices.

-           A holistic planning and programme development of medicinal plant-based conservation-led pilot is possible provided a multi-stakeholder approach involving the local communities is adapted from design to implementation phases.

-         A pilot project can be scaled-up and replicated successfully if one can demonstrate that the real target groups are the poorest and the most marginalized families within the communities and that the project has a method of reaching them with targeted activities.

-         Changing attitudes of local people from traditional management practices of NTFPs to scientific management practice is a gradual process.  Involving various levels of stakeholders together in project selection, planning, implementation and monitoring is effective.

-         The role of trained and skilled community members in management and marketing of MAPs/NTFPs are crucial and building links with market players is essential.

-         Periodic review of progress and planning process, and monitoring visits involving local stakeholders are important steps; exposure visits and observation tour are effective means to learn and share experiences.


-         The World Health Organization’s Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005 (WHO 2002) has been the focal point for MAPPA’s research efforts on plant-based traditional medicine and medical practices in the region.

-         MAPPA projects are basically following the WHO Guidelines on Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (GACP) (WHO 2003) for medicinal plants.

-         MAPPA’s partner organizations and researchers have duly assisted in the development and compilation of International Standard for Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ISSC-MAP) (Leaman and Salvador 2005).  This timely publication has been serving as a working manual for all MAPPA projects.

-         Through collaboration and partnerships with GOs, NGOs, CBOs, National research Institutes, Universities and private sector agencies, MAPPA programme aims at coordinating a production to consumption and marketing based holistic research activities that can not only address major local issues but also follows a regional approach to these issues.

-         MAPPA aims at a shift from over-harvesting to sustainable harvesting and predominance of wild collection to contemporary cultivation.

-         MAPPA’s grants are mostly site specific, country focused, and with regional approaches.

-         MAPPA-supported work has become increasingly concerned with the impact of commercialization and cultivation on the landless poor and with the need to support local peoples’ access to resources in the pace of privatization of the commons and less flexible land access regimes.

-         MAPPA works to build partnership and collaboration among key stakeholders and organizations in the MAP sector in the region, and enhances regional and international networking.

-         MAPPA prioritizes research activities that build on previous research, incorporate gender and social analysis, benefit rural poor and indigenous communities, and have potential to influence national and regional biodiversity conservation, environment, livelihood and health.

-         MAPPA emphasizes on the production of quality assured herbal products meeting international standard for safety and other norms.

-         ‘Med Plant Network News’ newsletter is being published in collaboration with National medicinal Plants Board (NMPB), India and Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), Bangalore and Medicinal Plants Conservation Network (MPCN) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), India for dissemination of useful and reliable information covering the MAP sector from across the region. 


Over the next five years (2006-2010), MAPPA plans to:

-         Develop and strengthen partnerships with key nodal institutions in the ICIMOD regional member countries for national programme ownership as well as to scale up and  replicate wise practices in conservation and sustainable utilization of MAPs/NTFPs;

-         Facilitate increased networking among the regional member countries by providing timely, quality and critical information through the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Information System (MAPIS) (

-         Prioritize conservation and commercial use of important species according to specific agro-climatic zones in each country;

-         Achieve convergence of knowledge, expertise and resources at the regional and international level in the field of biodiversity conservation, demonstration models, commercialization, technology, information, and policy & partnership development;

-         Integrate and coordinate MAP/NTFP related issues with various programmes of ICIMOD for convergence of resources in a focused manner;

-         Improve resources for conducting social and gender analysis and develop capacity to assess the social, economic and conservation impacts of domestication and cultivation of selected species;

-         Investigate and develop mechanisms for increasing and integrating community benefits through access and benefit of MAP/NTFP resources, especially focusing on local value-adding enterprises, quality improvements of the products and capacity building in marketing and trade;

-         Create a common platform for all stakeholders to generate a win-win situation for all concerned including producers, processors, market intermediaries and customers;

-         Assist regional member countries in developing, enforcing and practicing standard and quality practices in traditional medicine systems.

-         Facilitate linkages of research with national policy and development framework through flexible, responsive and locally adapted implementation frameworks;




© ICIMOD 2007. All Rights Reserved.
MAPPA is a network of development partners hosted by ICIMOD and supported by IDRC, The Ford Foundation and IFAD.
G.P.O. Box: 3226, Kathmandu, Nepal Tel: 977 -1 - 5003222, Fax: 977 -1 - 5003299, 5003277 Email:
Best viewed at 1024x768 resolution