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Appendix 4.1.4



Pitamber Sharma/
International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development
Kathmandu, Nepal


Mountain areas lie in the margins of mainstream development, globally in general and more particularly in the developing world. Consequently they have remained as net exporters of natural resources. With some exceptions, mountain areas have scarcely been the primary focus of resource development. Over-exploitation and depletion of resources, loss of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge have been rife. The net beneficiaries have often been non-mountain areas and populations. The paradox of mountain development has been that while a number of indigenous resources with potential comparative advantages continue to remain neglected, the path to sustainable development continues to be searched along conventional lines. In contrast to this is where the link between non-wood forest products (NWFPs) and integrated mountain development emerges so strongly.

The purpose of this short paper is to elucidate this linkage in the contemporary Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) context. First, the nature of mountain environments and the implications of contemporary changes, both external and internal, are highlighted. The imperatives of integrated mountain development are then traced to indicate how NWFPs can be an element in the overall strategy of sustainable mountain development. Finally, two case observations from Nepal elucidate the contemporary context and derive some conclusions.


Mountain areas entail living in the third (the vertical) dimension, where altitude and relief impose limits to human habitation and micro-environmental variations resulting from a number of factors such as slope, aspect, soil type and depth, thermal regime and precipitation restrict the choices of productive activities (Troll, 1972; Groetzbach, 1988; Whiteman, 1988). Altitude and relief together restrict the availability of cultivable land. Yields of traditional crops tend to be lower than plains areas for lack of inputs and appropriate technology packages. Altitude and relief also act as barriers to the development of transportation and can be overcome only at great economic investment and sometimes considerable environmental costs. Mountain areas are dynamic areas in terms of the operative tectonic, geomorphic and slope-induced physical processes. This inherent dynamism makes mountain areas extremely fragile. Resources tend to be rapidly degraded with high-intensity use and such degradation can be, and often is, highly irreversible. Mountain areas therefore tend to be scale-sensitive with relatively lower carrying capacities. Diversity of micro-environments and consequent high degree of variation in physical, biological attributes of natural resources also contribute to make mountain areas home to a number of endemic floral and faunal species and provide considerable scope for mostly modest-scale, area-specific comparative advantages. Some of these niches have traditionally been exploited by trading communities in the mountains. Human adaptation to the physical and resource systems of the mountains has manifested itself in a variety of ways, ranging from ethno-engineering to collection of medicinal herbs. Over the centuries, mountain people have recognized the contextual value of resources and developed systems to enhance the production and productivity of resources and use them for their own purpose or for exchange.

These objective conditions of the mountains or "mountain specificities" (Jodh, 1990 and 1991) historically provided, and in a sense determined, both the relative opportunities as well as almost absolute constraints to mountain development. In a context where the demand on the resource system was not particularly severe, traditional forms of adaptation worked pretty much to achieve some kind of a low level, steady-state environment and economy. Inaccessibility was addressed through the development of a self-provisioning, non-market dependent system. Barter-based exchange provided the requisite means of survival to high mountain communities based on pastoralism and some agriculture. Local resource centred production based on diverse production bases, the backbone of the subsistence economies of the mountains, was a response to the risk associated with a dominant mono-culture. The pace of changes, both external and internal to the mountains, in the last few decades has been so rapid as to make these traditional forms of adaptation either irrelevant or inadequate.

These changes have been marked by a rapid growth in population, a rapid rise in the expectations of mountain population (due to a large extent to the rise in literacy), relatively rapid growth in transportation and tremendous strides in the development of communication. These changes have created conditions where the demand for mountain resources has multiplied many times, both within and outside the mountain habitats. In the HKH, for example, population growth in most areas/regions in recent decades has remained in excess of 2 percent. The degradation and depletion of most common property natural resources has been phenomenal (Chalise et al., 1993), due both to the conversion of forest land into other uses and to the heavy demand for fuelwood, fodder and a number of other forest products. While the pressure of population on cultivated land has been consistently on the rise, alternative employment opportunities remain stagnant or grow at a sluggish rate relative to the rise in labour force (Sharma, 1993). In many areas, migration of mostly the young and the innovative from the mountains has been phenomenal.

Population growth, degradation or depletion of common property resources, gradual incorporation of the mountain economies to the global/regional economic systems, the demise of traditional institutions, overall lack of mountain-sensitive government policies ? all together have contributed to exacerbate the problems of development in the mountains. The problems are manifested in very widespread poverty, environmental degradation and lack of alternative employment opportunities amidst continuing high rates of population growth.


The challenge of mountain development in the contemporary context is basically one of alleviating poverty, enhancing alternative employment opportunities, conserving the mountain environment and habitat and ensuring a measure of distributive justice by addressing the concerns of the women and the marginalised and disadvantaged groups. It need hardly be emphasized that the comparative advantages afforded by the mountain environment have to be the basis for addressing these development challenges. While the productivity of the elements of traditional agriculture has to be enhanced, a more fundamental search has to be in areas that do not compete with agriculture, that address issues of the maintenance of biodiversity and environmental regeneration, that contribute to employment and income generation, that provide mountain areas with some measure of control in bargaining for the value of their resources and that help in the development of participatory institutions that can assure the distribution of benefits to those sections of society that are in the most need.

The crux of integrated mountain development lies in initiating a process that recognizes and reinforces the positive linkages among the various imperatives noted above. This means looking at the mountain environments as systems with inter-linked physical, economic, cultural, and institutional dimensions. Integrated development in this context would be the process of searching for complementarities within and among these dimensions: complementarities in terms of physical processes such as land use and watershed management in response to variable slopes, pedological as well as hydro-meteorological conditions and farming systems. Complementarities need also to be strengthened in terms of the economic systems of production and exchange that contribute to highland-lowland interaction because the problem of economic and environmental development in mountain areas in the contemporary world cannot be addressed by maintaining mountain areas as isolated, closed entities. The social and cultural dimensions of the mountains are more complex and have imbedded in them a whole system of values and folk knowledge regarding the mountain habitats and resources. Integrated mountain development would also mean the integration of modern scientific understanding to the symbolism expressed by the extant social and cultural systems and the indigenous knowledge systems so that contemporary problems and issues are better and holistically addressed. Then there is the institutional dimension with respect to common property resource use and management, and participation in the development process because decentralized, participatory approaches have perhaps an even greater relevance in mountain areas than elsewhere.

NWFPs in the mountain context are one category of resources that link all of the dimensions of integrated mountain development noted above. They provide a mostly non-competitive and often complimentary land use vis-à-vis agriculture in the mountains, where one of the main problems is paucity of cultivable land. NWFPs show the potential to integrate economic and environmental development, which is one of the main contemporary challenges in mountain development. As sources of alternative employment and income generation, NWFPs can also support and sustain economic development of poor mountain areas. Indeed, traditionally NWFPs have also been the last resort for the distress economy of the poor. Sustainable reliance on NWFPs also creates the need to maintain and conserve biomass and biodiversity. NWFPs provide a potential basis for highland-lowland interaction and exchange. With greater processing and value-added opportunities NWFPs can provide the mountain communities with better terms of trade and bargaining power. A great deal of folk knowledge has been generated around the variety of NWFPs on which mountain communities have depended for their own consumption or exchange for centuries. These indigenous knowledge systems, together with modern scientific knowledge, can be used to enhance the utility as well as conservation of the NWFP resources. NWFPs in much of the mountains have been, and continue to be harvested from common property resources. NWFPs therefore provide scope for the promotion of participatory approaches in natural resources management and can also be a vehicle in addressing the economic concerns of the poor and disadvantaged groups.

Fortunately, mountain areas of the HKH are home to a number of high value NWFPs, among which medicinal herbs and plants are an important category. Systematic information on many high value NWFPs remains lacking. The attempt here will be to describe the present status and use of some of these resources. Although the examples provided below do not strictly fall in the category of NWFPs, these nonetheless provide an idea of the role that high value NWFPs could play in the generation of income and employment and in the alleviation of poverty, and therefore development, of mountain areas.


Jaributi refers to a group of NWFPs that are collected from the wild from the mountains of Nepal and traded in India as raw materials for industries related to pharmaceuticals, food and beverage or perfumes. It is an ancient trade that thrived on the traditional Ayurvedic system of medicine. The trade volume is enormous but for the most part remains invisible. Much of the collection takes place from common property or government land. Although regulations stipulate the need for receiving a permit prior to collection and export out of the district and a payment of royalty on the amount collected, the royalty rates are neither based on an understanding of the resource situation nor the market value. Critical information related to the resource situation, income, employment beneficiaries, as well as trade and marketing aspects are lacking.

Available information from various sources (MPFS, 1988; Aryal, 1993; Edwards, 1993; DeCoursey, 1994; Karnali Institute, 1994; Malla, 1994) indicates that the trade comprises of a northward flow of money and market information through discreet channels, and a southward flow of raw materials. Collecting households are normally poor households and the earnings from Jaributi trade supplement the family income at the most critical period. Although the harvesting period of different plant species may differ, much of the harvesting takes place between August/September through December, which is the non-agricultural season in the Nepalese mountains. Often the quantities and prices are predetermined for the collector households who receive money in the form of advances. At the village level, harvesting and collection activities are mostly coordinated by the village trader who provides the advances, stores the produce and supplies it to the next link in the marketing chain: the road-head or district headquarters trader. While some of the produce may have official sanction for collection and, export, bulk of it takes place under cover. Once the Jaributi reach the Tarai towns in the lowlands of southern Nepal, the trade is almost completely taken over by a small group of powerful, large-scale wholesalers with links across the border in India and access to up-to-date market information. The wholesalers have a virtual monopoly on the Jaributi trade and control the prices paid to the small traders and collectors.

Nepal has some processing facilities, both in the government and the private sector, but these facilities are quite insignificant relative to the volumes traded in India. The bulk of the "value added" occurs in the major Indian cities.

Two case studies elucidate the problems and prospects of Jaributi as vehicles of development in the Nepalese mountains.

Collection and Trade of Jatamashi (Nardostachys grandiflora) in the Chaudabisa Valley, Jumla/

Jumla is a remote district in northwestern Nepal. The Chaudabisa valley lies in the eastern part of Jumla. Covering about four Village Development Committees, it contains 17 major villages and a population of about 15,000. Only about 10 percent of the total land area is arable with maize, buckwheat, wheat and potato as the major crops. Yields are low. Cropping intensity is also low. Livestock play an important role in the economy and an average household may have as many as five large animals and about 15 ruminants. About 41 percent of the total land area is forested and another 26 percent consists of high-altitude meadows.

Household size in the Chaudabisa area is about 8, compared to 5.6 for Nepal as a whole. Only about 60 percent of the households are self-sufficient in food year-round. Migration, therefore, is quite common. Collection and trade of jatamashi has remained an important source of supplementary income to almost 80 percent of the households in the Chaudabisa area. It has been an established part of the economy for the last 10-15 years.

Jatamashi is a source of essential oil and naturally occurs in favourable locations at altitudes ranging from 3,000 to 4,500 m in Jumla and surrounding districts. There are 14 types of NWFPs exported from Jumla, according to government records. Jatamashi, although not strictly a forest product, is the dominant export. Most of the harvesting takes place between mid-September to mid-December. Although there is no official sanction, there are traditional harvesting territories of collectors from particular areas. Excessive pressure can at times result in conflict over harvesting territories. There is a STOL airfield in Khalanga, the headquarters of Jumla district. Large quantities of jatamashi is collected from Jumla and surrounding districts are airlifted to Nepalgunj, a major trade centre near the border with India. Permits are required for the collection of jatamashi and a fixed royalty needs to be paid to the government before it can be exported out of the district. However, the discrepancy between collection for which royalty was paid and the quantity of jatamashi airlifted out of Jumla shows that almost half of the trade goes unrecorded in government accounts. In fiscal year 1992/93, the government records show a collection of 78,046 kg, while in the same period a total of 151,245 kg of Jatamashi was airlifted out of Jumla. Also, the records of Jatamashi airlifted from Jumla show that between 1988/89 and 1992/93 the total amount exported went up from 25,000 kg to 151,245 kg, a sixfold increase in five years.

Jatamashi collection by Chaudabisa households amounted to 69,500 kg, or nearly 46 percent of the total exports from Jumla in 1992/93. The household collection ranged from 24 kg to 600 kg per household. Jatamashi collection was taken as an important activity by about 545 households. Assuming that 25 days were involved in the harvesting and collection of Jatamashi and that about 1.5 persons were involved per household, the total employment generated by the activity comes to about 20,600 person days per year including porterage. Average collection in the 545 households is over 100 kg per year. In 1992/93, this meant a net revenue of US$ 20 per household. Households in Chaudabisa reported earnings between US$ 20 to US$ 60 per year from the sale of Jatamashi.

Chart 1 shows costs incurred, gross and net revenue generated, and the profits per kg of Jatamashi received by collecting households of Chaudabisa and traders at different points in the chain from the source to the market. The farmer who collects Jatamashi and sells to the Jumla trader in the headquarters gains at the most US$ 0.20 per kg, and may be lower if the farmer sells the produce to the village trader. Government regulation in Nepal restricts the export of unprocessed Jatamashi and there is a processing plant at Krishnanagar in the Nepal-India border. However, because of the differences in price it becomes expedient to the Nepalgunj trader to siphon the bulk of the Jatamashi to India.

The market price for Jatamashi per kg in 1993 was US$ 1.36 at the Krishnanagar Processing plant, US$ 1.70/kg at Nepalgunj and US$ 2.24/kg across the border in India. By selling in Nepal, the Nepalgunj trader makes a profit per kg of US$ 0.23, while if sold in India the Nepalgunj trader stands to gain US$ 0.54 per kg over and above the profit in Nepal. The profit for the collector is reduced by 20 to 30 percent if the produce is contracted through advance payment or loan by the village trader.

What the chart basically illustrates is that the Chaudabisa collector gains the least in terms profits per kg and the profit to the traders increases progressively as the produce travels from the source to the market in India. Jatamashi rhizome of Chaudabisa area has oil content of between 2 and 3 percent and the price of Jatamashi oil in the market in 1993 was US$ 180 per kg.

While Jatamashi is a resource of major comparative advantage and could be an important source for its development, the linkages currently are not all positive and in favour of the environment and economy of the Chaudabisa area. What remains unknown, however, is the resource situation, since data at that level does not exist. Also, the methods and timing of harvesting are not monitored and it could well be that the resources are currently over-exploited. Most of the Jatamashi is collected/harvested from the wild from government land on what is apparently a first-come, first-serve basis. There is no management structure tied to the harvesting of resources at the present.

Collection and trade of Chiraita (Swertia chirata) in the Koshi Hills, East Nepal/

The eastern hills of Nepal are the major source of Chiraita, a plant with fever reducing properties traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine. The demand for Chiraita has remained high in recent years due to its alleged use in Indian alcoholic beverages. It is a biennial herb occurring at altitudes of 1,200-3,000 m, mostly on open ground. The trade volume of Chiraita from the Koshi hills is considerable. In 1991/92, about 140 mt of Chiraita is reported to have passed through Hile and Basantpur road heads in the Koshi hills. Chiraita is harvested mostly from government managed forests and are subjected to royalty payment. Royalty rates are not related to the abundance or market value and are not related to sustainable harvesting rates because the resource situation for the most part remains unknown.

Chiraita is harvested in August-September. The collectors normally are linked in ritual (mit) relationships with the trader. Most often the village trader advances some amount to the collectors during festival time and settles the accounts at some later date when the Chiraita collection is delivered. The collectors, however, have a choice of selling the produce to the village trader or trader at the roadhead. For example, the local collectors in the Sherpa village of Gongtala have a choice of selling to the village trader (in which case the price may be US$ 0.96 per kg) or sell it to the road head trader at Hile (at a price of US$ 1.60 per kg, nearly 66 percent higher than at Gongtala) four days walk away.

The higher price the collectors may receive at Hile involve high labour or porterage costs, and no availability of credit, whereas selling to local traders will involve no porterage cost and credit would be available from the village trader. The timing of the sale is also extremely important in the case of Chiraita. For example, a speculative collector could wait till February and sell at a price of US$ 2.25 per kg. However, this would involve high labour costs, high risk and the need for storage.

In 1992/93, the Chiraita trade of 140 tons passing through Hile and Basantpur resulted in a turnover of US$ 280,000 (at a typical price of US$ 2/kg). The Chiraita producing catchment area has a population of 85,000 households. According to KMTNC (1991), Chiraita harvest accounts for US$ 3.30 per household or about 5 percent of the gross household income. Other studies reveal that the income distribution is not equitable.

On the basis of the Gongtala study, Edwards (1993) estimated that the total beneficiaries from the Chiraita trade in the Koshi hills may number about 6,900 households, or a population of little over 41,000 at a household size of 6. Table 1 shows the number of households of various categories of beneficiaries and the income distribution.

Table 1: Households and income distribution from Chiraita trade in the Koshi Hills,
             East Nepal

Number of house-holds
Gross Income (NR '000)/
Percent of Total Gross Income
Gross Income per Household (NR)
Collector households
Porter households
Village trader households
Independent collector households

Source: Edwards (1993)

In terms of per household benefits, the village trader appears as the largest beneficiary. However, trading is a full time activity for much of the year. Also the independent collectors would receive a higher proportion of the income if they marketed the produce directly at roadhead.


These two cases are not isolated examples. Exploratory studies show that in the eastern parts of the Annapurna region in central Nepal, 14 major Jaributi (mostly from forests) are regularly traded in sizeable quantities (DeCoursey, 1994). A total of 32 Jaributi are traded from the Sindhupalchok district adjoining Kathmandu (DeCoursey, 1993). In the Langtang National Park alone, 172 useful plant species have been recorded, of which 91 are used for medicinal purposes (Yonzon, 1993). The list in each case would be longer if all NWFPs were taken into account. However, the information base on high-value NWFPs is extremely poor, partly because much of the trade remains illegal. The situation must be similar in other countries/areas of the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region. What emerges from a cursory survey of extant information is that the total income turnover from medicinal plants alone is quite considerable and can be an important element in the strategy of mountain development in the HKH. There appear to be, however, a number of issues that need priority attention if NWFPs in general and medicinal plants in particular are to play a meaningful role in mountain development. Some of these issues are noted below.

Ecological database: Existing information is extremely scant regarding the status of the resource base, the probable impact of harvesting/collection practices, and area-specific sustainable harvesting. This database is extremely important for charting a strategy for the development of NWFPs and needs to be created through an appropriate research framework (Edwards et al., 1993) on a priority basis.

Management of common property resources: Most NWFPs in general, and medicinal plants in particular, are harvested from common property resources in situations where access appears to be neither restricted nor regulated. Sustainable harvesting and management of these resources would not be possible without promoting participatory institutions that could oversee, monitor and enforce regulations and sustainably manage and benefit from these resources. Examples of such traditional institutions or others institutional innovations need therefore to be explored. Also, relevant community forestry and agroforestry experience need to be brought to bear on this issue. In many countries of the HKH there are regulations that prevent the legal harvesting of even minor forest products. These concerns also need to be addressed.

Marketing institutions: The village traders and the middlemen appear to be performing a useful role in the marketing of medicinal plants. However, the scope for cooperative arrangements to share the costs and benefits of direct marketing, to develop a system of regular and up to date market information, to ease access to credit and technology, and to promote specific Jaributi with comparative advantage in specific areas/regions, appears to be considerable. Such marketing cooperatives could also engage in basic processing and quality control of medicinal plants and other NWFPs. Low-volume, high-value products such as Morchella mushrooms or Jatamashi oil are reported to offer good scope for cooperative arrangements. An extremely important concern in this respect is the organisation and empowerment of local communities.

Increasing value added in collection/harvesting areas: The collection and transportation of medicinal plants alone is not going to yield many returns unless attempts are directed to increase value added through proper cleaning, sorting, packaging and through simple processes of distillation or extraction at the village level.

Mechanisms for ensuring better distribution of benefits to particularly disadvantaged households need also to be assessed. This would in particular require looking at processes that contribute to protect the access rights of the poor to these resources. Part of royalties derived from medicinal plants from specific areas could be used for local community development and conservation work, something that is being tried from the returns from tourism in protected or conservation areas in Nepal at the present. The royalty system also needs to be rationalized and tied to the resource situation.

Gender issues: While women are involved in the collection and basic processing of medicinal plants, much of it remains a male-dominated activity. However, there are some areas where the women's role could be more enhanced. This reportedly includes harvesting of particular species such as Nagbeli (Lycopodium clavatum) and cultivation of Jatamashi. The potential of specific NWFPs in contributing to women's income within households need to be particularly assessed.

Promotion of cultivation on private land: There are a number of NWFPs that show potentials for cultivation in private land. These need to be identified, their market potential assessed and promoted at the farmer's level. Cultivation can be encouraged and indeed may be essential for unmanaged and threatened high-altitude herbal species. Many scientists in Nepal believe that cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants in particular is necessary to assure sustainable harvests. Aspects of extension as well as research and demonstration to promote commercial cultivation of potential medicinal plants therefore requires priority attention.


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1/. Regional Planner, International Centre for integrated Mountain Development, Kathmandu, Nepal.
2/. Based on the Karnali Institute Report (1994) A Feasibility Study on Establishing a Processing Plant for Medicinal Herbs at Chaudabisa, Jumbla.
3/.Based on Edwards (1993). The Marketing of Non-Timber Forest Products from the Himalaya: The Trade between East Nepal and India.
4/.Exchange rate is NR 50 to one US Dollar.

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