Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution

, Volume 64, Issue 2, pp 237–245 | Cite as

Medicinal and aromatic plant cultivation in the Swat valley, north-western Pakistan, for economic development and biodiversity conservation

  • Hassan Sher
  • Mary E. Barkworth
  • Hugo J. de BoerEmail author
Research Article


Most people in the Swat valley of northwest Pakistan practice subsistence farming, supplementing their income by collecting and selling wild harvested plants for use in herbal medicine. Previous work showed that the collectors did not know the potential long-term impacts of collecting wild plants. We hypothesized that establishment of ex situ cultivation plots for these most valuable species would provide a sustainable alternative and lead to development of skills in agricultural production and marketing among participants. Swat valley farmers were helped to establish plots in four locations and taught to cultivate ten medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs). In the first year, workshops were held on the financial benefits of growing MAPs for trade, criteria in selecting species, and strategies to improve MAP yield. In the second year, emphasis was placed on helping the farmers achieve a better price for their products by engaging them in discussions concerning criteria used in setting purchase prices. Seven of the ten cultivated MAPs yielded a better financial return than tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum L.), the traditional cash crop in the area. Cultivating MAPs can yield a higher financial return than traditional cash crops, but a long-term assessment is necessary. Offering training in collection, preservation, and marketing can enhance the financial return and the long-term benefits of cultivation. Introduction of standardized production technology and appropriate post-harvest management has become a prime engine of growth for the economies of the subsistence farmers participating in our study, and is leading to better management and conservation practices for MAPs and the landscapes in which they grow.


Economic development Mountain communities MAPs cultivation Pakistan Subsistence farming 



We express our sincere thanks to USAID and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) for their financial support. We are particularly grateful to Dr. David Orden, Senior Research Fellow in the Markets, Trade and Institutions Division of IFPRI, for sharing experiences and providing technical support and suggestions throughout the study and for his comments on initial drafts of this paper. We also thank Garrett Billings for preparing the map used.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Plant Sciences and BiodiversityUniversity of SwatMingoraPakistan
  2. 2.Intermountain Herbarium, Department of BiologyUtah State UniversityLoganUSA
  3. 3.Department of Organismal BiologyUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  4. 4.Natural History MuseumUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

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