Suggested measures for sustainable development

With the increasing demand for traditional medicinal products in the local market, the demand for the raw materials will also increase. Although the amount of medicinal plants from the forest is estimated to be less than the imported raw materials, its composition in the products is high in some cases and crucial for most of the manufacturers. As for most of the medicinal plants, the whole tree/herb, roots and stems are taken and this practice basically will destroy the population of the species in the forest if no appropriate measures are taken. Some conservation measures are suggested in order to avoid the problem of the shortage and unsustainable supply of raw materials from the forest as well as the extinction of certain species.

[important color=green title=Contents]Establishing mechanisms to monitor collection
Establishing a medicinal plant plantation
Developing a database on demand and supply of medicinal plants
Inventorize medicinal plant resources
Forestry Extension[/important]

Establishing mechanisms to monitor collection

The relevant government agencies should set up proper mechanisms with regard to working permits, royalties or regulations for monitoring the collection of medicinal plants. The collectors or manufacturers who harvest medicinal plants from the forest area need to pay royalties to the Forestry Department (licensing scheme for the extraction of medicinal plants) based on the amount collected. As the royalties are collected, the amount of medicinal plants harvested from the forest area can also be determined for future management and conservation.

To avoid the problem of over exploitation, the Forestry Department should determine the maximum amount of medicinal plants that could be harvested for a given time period based on the species or, as a whole, the number of medicinal plants for each collector. The authorities should also inform collectors about the forest areas that will be opened for logging and allow collectors or manufacturers to harvest the raw material before the logging operation begins. Therefore, they could generate extra income to the rural people and also offer opportunities for manufacturers to explore the potential raw materials available in the forest.

Besides, the Forestry Department also needs to make an inventory of the availability of medicinal plants in the forest area regularly. This measure could directly monitor some of the current medicinal plant species that are being extensively harvested. The silviculture treatment and replanting of the resources that are being harvested are important to encourage the sustainable supply of medicinal plants to the industry.

Establishing a medicinal plant plantation

The only way to avoid the over-dependence on medicinal plants from the forest is through plantation establishment. The domesticated species may include highly demanded local and potential imported species.  The medicinal plants in great demand by local manufacturers should be identified and be given priority for planting on a commercial basis through agroforestry or monocrop plantations. Furthermore, research on the compatibility of planting the imported medicinal plants locally needs to be conducted.
Due to land constraints and high economic risk when applying the monoculture system, some researchers suggest that agroforestry could be a viable alternative approach to cultivating medicinal plants over large areas (refer to Mohd Azmi et al., 2001). The approach refers to a dynamic system involving the integration of agricultural crops and/or livestock with tree planting for the purpose of increased total land productivity. Under the Third National Agriculture Policy (1998 - 2010), the agroforestry approach has been identified as the most suitable system for the cultivation of herbs (Anon, 1999c).


Some studies have highlighted the importance and benefit of agroforestry systems to investors. However, an economic study related to the plantation of medicinal plants is still lacking. A preliminary study by Mohd Azmi et al. (1998) was conducted on the financial analysis of four selected medicinal plants, namely, turmeric (Curcuma domestica), ginger (Zingiber officinale), lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) and petai (Parkia speciosa). The study revealed that an agroforestry project covering an area of one hectare is expected to generate a net cash flow of RM21, 330. The financial analysis, based on an area of one hectare for a period of 20 years, has demonstrated that the project is viable with an NPV of RM4, 624 at 10% discount rate and IRR of 23.22%. Planting a single species as a monocrop (e.g. petai) is not feasible as it may take a few years after planting to generate good returns. It is recommended that planting medicinal plants on an agroforestry basis could prove to be profitable. More financial analysis needs to be carried out based on post-project valuation or using an actual project’s benefit and cost. This will help potential investors to undertake the project more confidently and with less risk.

Developing a database on demand and supply of medicinal plants

A database on the information of regular collectors of medicinal plants as well as the traditional medicine industry for each state needs to be developed. With the establishment of the database, information on the availability of collectors/practitioners could be assessed in order to ensure the sustainability of supply of medicinal plants. Manufacturers who require medicinal plants from local resources could establish contact with collectors/practitioners registered in the database. Thus, good transaction linkages between collectors/practitioners and manufacturers can be established besides providing information on the medicinal plant industry and its utilization to the public. With good cooperation between the main players in the herbal industry, raw material from local sources could be channeled systematically to the required manufacturer. The Forestry Department could collect information on the supply of raw material from the forest as well as monitor harvesting activities.
The database could also be linked and collaborate with the five respective organizations of traditional medicine associations in terms of data upgrading for every practitioner and manufacturer in Malaysia. These five organizations are the Malay Traditional Medicine Association Malaysia (PUTRAMAS), the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association of Malaysia (FCPMDAM), the Indian Traditional Medicine Association Malaysia (PEPTIM), the Malaysian Society for Complementary Therapies (MSCT) and the Malaysian Homeopathic Medical Council. These associations could exchange ideas and opinions regarding the problems and scenario in traditional medicine as well as measures to increase the quality and quantity of traditional medicine products.

Inventorize medicinal plant resources

Medicinal plants should be included as one of the forest resources to be inventorized under the National Forest Inventory (NFI). It is important to estimate the stocking of medicinal plant resources as well as other important characteristics (morphology) of medicinal plants in the forest. The information can be used as a guideline for the Forestry Department to determine the optimal stocking and optimal time to harvest medicinal plants. This measure can help avoid the problem of over-exploitation that involves the harvesting of immature tree/herbs by the collectors. The harvesting of medicinal plants, categorized as endangered species, can also be monitored and controlled. Therefore, besides providing a sustainable supply of resources to the industry; conservation of such species can be developed based on the morphology information and availability of the resources in the forest.

Forestry Extension

Forestry extension through forestry education or conservation education has to be intensified in response to the changing scenario of the forestry activities and environment. Current forestry curricula of many universities worldwide have incorporated the concept of integrated resource management using the multiple-use forestry principle besides the core forestry courses related to the growing and management of trees for economic return.  The multiple-use principle in forest management must also include non-wood products and services (water, wildlife, recreation, medicinal plants, educational and aesthetic benefits, etc) and not just timber. This principle is the key pre-requisite to sustainable forest management (SFM) philosophy. Therefore, the current professional forestry curricula in universities should include the main elements of SFM in courses related to multiple-use forestry in order to prepare future foresters to manage forests sustainably (Rusli, 1999). Rusli (1999) also went on to say that future forestry education needs to take cognizance of some changing factors such as decreasing resources, increasing environmental pressure, sophistication of learning technology and global implications of forestry issues. Timber as well as the non-timber forest products (NTFPs) should be equally emphasized.
More programmes on conservation education for the younger generation should also be introduced to increase the knowledge and appreciation of forest conservation for the future generations. Conservation education is best incorporated in the primary school curriculum or earlier (Abang Mohd Mokhtar, 1997). This will help to increase awareness of the conservation of natural resources and conservation practices.