Medicinal Plants Conservation Areas (MPCAs) in India are bioculturally rich areas of land with a high prevalence of endemic medicinal plants. MPCAs are usually demarcated by communities or by the government in partnership with traditional healers of the region with the aim of creating a medicinal plants in-situ gene bank which will also host medicinal plants nurseries. Medicinal plants from the nurseries in the MPCAs are then supplied by the traditional healers to the communities in the surrounding villages to set up home herbal gardens with instructions on the combination of plants to be used for a variety of illnesses. These home herbal gardens constitute a domestic pharmacy in every household thus meeting basic health care needs of communities living in remote areas not well serviced by roads and hospitals. Furthermore the MPCA along with home herbal gardens revitalize the traditional knowledge of communities hence leading to increased valuing and thereby conservation of the local ecosystem. Surrounding the MPCAs are buffer-zones called Medicinal Plants Development Areas (MPDAs) where both communities and traditional healers sustainably harvest medicinal plants for domestic consumption and sale in the local markets.
On the 14-16 February 2012, Kabir Bavikatte and Harry Jonas of Natural Justice were at the Jim Corbett National Park (Uttarakhand, India) to provide technical support to UNDP-GEF’s “Mainstreaming Conservation and Sustainable Use of Medicinal Plant Diversity in Three Indian States” project, which is being implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, UNDP and the Institute of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. In Jim Corbett National Park, the project is seeking to establish the Mohan MPCA through the local community with the permission of the forest department. A local management group (LMG) was constituted by representatives of the surrounding villages. The LMG was tasked with stewarding the MPCA along with developing a community knowledge register of relevant medicinal plants and associated traditional knowledge in the MPCA.
Natural Justice facilitated a one day workshop providing a forum for community members and partners to engage in dialogue and to consider the legal ramifications of the Biodiversity Act for the project. Specifically, the group grappled with the question of how Community Knowledge Registers and LMGs developed under the project can become aligned with Peoples’ Biodiversity Registers and Biodiversity Management Committees called for by the Act. The following day a community meeting developed the ideas of the first day, focusing particularly on the local challenges communities are facing in supporting the Mohan MPCA. Natural Justice also sought to support the LMG and the local NGO to develop a Biocultural Community Protocol that outlines their vision, plans and decision making structure for the governance and management of the MPCA.