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Bio-piracy rampant in Nagaland

Resource-rich Nagaland is plagued by bio-piracy with rare medicinal herbs, orchids and other endangered species being smuggled out of the state, NGOs have claimed.

india Updated: May 03, 2008 20:06 IST

Resource-rich Nagaland is plagued by bio-piracy with rare medicinal herbs, orchids and other endangered species being smuggled out of the state, NGOs have claimed.

Many plants are being taken away by pharmaceutical companies through middlemen who engage locals to collect naturally grown species for paltry sums, Thomas Rengma, Media Secretary of Peoples Group, a Naga environment NGO, told PTI.

"Bio-piracy is something which many of us are not aware of even though it is taking place under our very noses," he said.

He said sheer ignorance about benefits to be accrued by the people if formal business in medicinal plants and herbs is undertaken has aggravated bio-piracy in the state.

Some years ago panax ginseng and pseudo ginseng, the local species of ginseng which have high demand in international markets, have been almost been completely wiped out from the wilds of Nagaland, Rengma said.

Ginseng, sold in packs both raw and powdered, is believed to be a cure for all kinds of ailments by people in south-east Asian countries, he said.

Similar is the case for taxus baccata and cephallu taxus, found in the wilds of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, which are used in western countries for making medicines to cure cancer, he said.

These plants are being smuggled out to neighbouring Myanmar in truckloads from Kohima and Phek districts, Rengma, an environment writer-cum-activist alleged.

The latest medicinal plant to fall prey to bio-piracy is paris cordifolia, a poisonous herb used for manufacturing high value drugs.

It generally grows during summer under the shade of woods and spotting it is a bit difficult.

Although it generally bears four leaves and is called quadrifolia in the West, the Nagaland variety has six leaves that means, a single stem can give more products, and so demand is high, he pointed out.

This plant is now extensively used for homoeopathic medicines for curing headache, chronic respiratory and bronchial infections.

Rengma said local Myanmar drugs companies have now engaged middlemen to collect cordifolia from Kohima and Phek districts after it was completely wiped out from the hills of Manipur.

The herbs are taken to Moreh on the Manipur-Myanmar border trade point on trucks on way to the neighbouring country.

Under Horticulture Technology Mission (HTM), the Nagaland government, of late, has encouraged villagers to grow taxus baccati because a kg of dry leaves of the plant fetches more than Rs one lakh in the Indian market.

At a recent consultation between representatives of Naga tribal councils and forest officials on forest conservation here, some NGO leaders asked the department to strictly check the practice of collecting orchids from natural habitats for sale in markets.

They also asked the forest officials to strictly enforce a ban on sale of wild animals in the markets.

Village councils in Nagaland have restricted hunting and imposed fines for killing wild animals within their jurisdictions, particularly during the breeding seasons.