Biodiversity Conservation in Medicinal Plants and Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act
Our ancestors always considered plant genetic resources (PGR) to be the heritage of humankind and were of the opinion that this treasure would provide the foundation for attaining food, nutritional, and health security. Though evolution on Earth started over 3.5 billion years ago, it is with human interference, coupled with natural processes, that biodiversity has expanded. Human civilization is closely associated with the refinement of biodiversity. Looking to their day-to-day needs, humans started selecting plants from the available natural biodiversity. In ancient times, when men used to go hunting, it was women who developed the art of gathering and selecting plant species according to the needs of the family/society. Along with the advance of civilization, a natural evolutionary adjustment process took place in nature, of course aligned with human interference in different ecologies and changing environmental and biotic conditions. The resultant plant biodiversity was an irreplaceable resource and was the lifeline of humans, providing a sustainable ecosystem to meet the food, clothing, shelter, nutritional, and health requirements of the population. Among developing countries, India is considered as a cradle of agricultural biodiversity, known for its rich heritage of plant, animal, and fish genetic resources, as well as microorganisms, which constitute biodiversity. With 17% of the world’s population, only 4.0% of the world’s area, and 40% of its water bodies, India is considered to be one of the world’s 17 mega biodiversity countries, with 12 of the world’s mega-diversity centers, accounting for 7–8% of the world’s recorded species. India is also considered as a major center for the domestication of crop plants. Among the 34 biodiversity hot spots identified across the world—which are largely superimposed over the phyto-geographical regions—the Indian Gene Centre has three: the Western Himalayas, North-Eastern region, and Western Ghats. The Indian Gene Centre is divided into eight regions, including biodiversity-rich zones. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are rich treasure houses of agro-biodiversity and are connected with Indo-Burman, Indo-Malyasian, and Indo-Indonesian biodiversity. The Indian Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FRA) Authority has identified 22 agro-biodiversity hotspots across the country. Looking to the rich biodiversity of the country, Vavilov (1951) identified India as one of the eight primary centers of the origin of cultivated plants; the country hosts about 49,000 species of flowering and nonflowering plants (18.8%), out of 260,000 described across the globe. India is rich in endemic plant species, which represent 33% of its flora. Within the spectrum of crop species and wild relatives, thousands of varieties, cultivars, landraces, and ecotypes occur in India. The country is known to have more than 18,000 species of higher plants, including 160 major and minor crop species and 325 wild relatives. Around 1500 wild edible plant species are widely exploited by native tribes. In addition, nearly 9500 plant species with ethno-botanical uses have been reported in the country, of which around 7500 are used for ethno-medical purposes and 3900 are edible species. Medicinal plants account for nearly 3000 species (India’s 4th national report to the Convention on Biological Diversity [CBD] 2009).
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