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The World Health Organization estimated that 80% of the population of developing countries rely on traditional medicines, mostly plant drugs, for their primary health care needs. Also, modern pharmacopoeia still contain at least 25% drugs derived from plants and many others which are synthetic analogues built on prototype compounds isolated from plants. Demand for medicinal plants is increasing in both developing and developed countries, and surprisingly, the bulk of the material traded is still from wild harvested sources on forest lands and only a very small number of species are cultivated. The expanding trade in medicinal plants has serious implications on the survival of several plant species, with many under serious threat to become extinct.

This volume brings together a most useful collection of papers by some experts in medicinal plants. It draws attention in a sensitive way to the huge contribution of medicinal plants to traditional and modern health care systems, but also alert the readers on the many problems and challenges facing their sustainable development, such as: assessment and management of the resource base; best harvesting and processing practices; trade issues and aspects dealing with the intellectual property rights on traditional medicine by indigenous peoples. The prospective audience includes not only foresters, rural development workers and policy makers, but also all those who are involved in one way or another with traditional medicine. The use of this document will help raise the awareness on medicinal plants as an important forest resource, and will help ensure that medicinal plants are adequately included in forest conservation and utilization programmes.

The present study was developed jointly by the Global Initiative for Traditional Systems (GIFTS) of Health (a UK based NGO) and FAO. The document is based on contributions made by many experts on medicinal plants, and has benefited from the detailed comments of several colleagues within GIFTS and FAO. Final editing of this publication was done by Gerry Bodeker and Paul Vantomme. I wish to express my thanks to all of them.

I have great pleasure to release this document, in the hope that it will serve as a useful reference for all concerned with the sustainable development of medicinal plants from forests.

Karl Hermann Schmincke

Forest Products Division
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