DNA Barcoding and Biochemical Profiling of Medical Plants of Northern and Desert Areas of Pakistan to Improve Rural Living Standards

PSSP working paper 037, “DNA Barcoding and Biochemical Profiling of Medical Plants of Northern and Desert Areas of Pakistan to Improve Rural Living Standards”, focuses on the conservation of natural plant resources by using modern molecular techniques and creating awareness for determining the active ingredients of medicinal plants through biochemical profiling. Further objectives of the study were to identify marketing channels for medicinal plants, costs and margins of stakeholders involved in the marketing of medicinal plants, and factors responsible for the poor trade and decreasing population of these plants in the two study areas of Swat Valley and Cholistan Desert. Biochemical profiling of twelve selected plants, followed by their comparison with marketed products, revealed that they contain highly valuable compounds with possible commercial applications. Four DNA barcoding markers were evaluated for their amplification, sequencing, and species identification capacity, and TaxonID trees were generated for barcode sequence validation. DNA barcoding was successfully applied in testing for adulteration in the medicinal plants which could have a tremendous impact in checking the purity of traditional medicines.

Structured questionnaires were also used to collect descriptive statistics and cost related data from stakeholders in the medicinal plants trade. A total of 120 respondents, including 80 collectors (40 from each area) and 40 assemblers/shopkeepers (20 from each area), were selected for this purpose. Margin analysis was used to measure the revenues of collectors and assemblers/shopkeepers. Medicinal plants were an important source of income for locals, contributing about 32% and 29% in assemblers and collector’s income in Swat, respectively. Cholistani assemblers and collectors were getting about 25% and 18% of their per month income from medicinal plants, respectively. Collectors in Swat were selling on average 337 kg of plants in the market per month, as compared to 114 kg of plant parts sold per month by collectors in Cholistan. Assemblers had 2 to 7 times higher margins than collectors.

The main reasons reported for the declining plant population in both areas were overgrazing, increasing human population, unavailability of seeds, poor collection techniques, lack of awareness among people, removal of roots, deforestation, and rapidly increasing demand for medicinal plants. The main marketing problems faced by stakeholders were a lack of awareness regarding the importance of medicinal plants, no pricing policy, a monopoly of a few big dealers, and high transportation costs. Recommendations are made on the basis of the project outcomes and translated into policy implications for the establishment of well-structured markets along with conservation measures to make full use of the medicinal plants’ products and to raise the living standard of the people residing around this valuable resource.