Pakistan Ethnobotany
Sustainable use of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants in Swat Valley, Pakistan: Improving livelihoods and mitigating climate change.

Lead Researchers:

Dr. Rainer W. Bussmann, Director and Curator of Economic Botany, William L. Brown Center

Dr. Hassan Sher, Centre for Plant Sciences  and Biodiversity, University of Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan

Dr. Robbie Hart, Assistant Curator, William L. Brown Center

The high mountains of northern Pakistan, spanning the Hindu-Kush and Karakoram at the far western edge of the Himalaya, host an unique alpine flora amid some of the most precipitous terrain in the world. WLBC researchers, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Swat, Pakistan, are conducting projects to study, monitor and conserve medicinal plants in this superlative area.

Alpine and subalpine forest between 3182 and 4964 m are home to numerous species of wild medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs). Notable species include Valeriana wallichii, Paeonia emodii, Ephedra gerardiana, Berginia ciliata and Podophyllum hexandrum.  Although these plants are commercially important, at present Pakistani farmers derive little benefit from trade in MAPs, and because collectors rely on natural populations, sustainable harvesting is a serious concern.  At the same time, climate change driven population changes and range shifts may lead to reduced availability and changes in efficacy or quality.

This project integrates research on economic development for low-income farmers in the Swat Valley with biodiversity and climate change research. Previous work suggests that increasing cultivation lifts harvest pressure on wild medicinal and aromatic plants. This results in an improved and sustainable return for farmers, but maximizing this return requires providing pure, correctly identified, and well processed material.

We work with farmers in three villages to help them provide high quality MAP materials for trade while learning about the value of collaboration, reliability, branding, and certification. The biodiversity research develops information about natural populations of MAP species while offering villagers training in conservation, plant identification, and monitoring.

To monitor climate impacts, we use the standardized “Global Observational Research in Alpine environments” (GLORIA) research method to set up permanent biodiversity and climate monitoring plots on mountain summits, and track the impact of climate change both on the alpine flora and on traditional culture. We pair this with ethnobotanical interviews with mountain residents and local plant experts focusing on mountain plants and in particular species represented in the plots.