Commercial alpine medicinal plants are collected from the wild by local rural households throughout the Himalaya and sold in order to increase household incomes. Recent studies indicate that this annual trade amounts to thousands of tonnes of roots, rhizomes, tubers, leaves, etc., worth millions of US dollars. The main market is in India. Based on a national survey, including the most commonly traded species, and a village study this paper investigates the importance of the alpine medicinal plant trade at national and local levels in Nepal. The national survey included standardized open-ended interviews with 232 harvesters, 64 local traders, 66 central wholesalers, 47 regional wholesalers, and 16 production companies. The village survey is based on the daily records of household activities in 15 households in a one-year period. The annual Nepalese alpine and sub-alpine medicinal plant trade is conservatively estimated to vary from 480 to 2500 t with a total harvester value of US$0.8–3.3 million; the average harvester value is estimated at US$66.0 ± 99.0. The trade in 1997/98 amounted to 1600 t with a harvester value of US$2.3 million and an export value equivalent to 2.5% of total export from Nepal. Medicinal plant harvesting was found to constitute an integrated part of local livelihood strategies, contributing from 3 to 44% (average of 12%) of the annual household income. Importance at household level depended on land and animal holdings, and the availability of adult male labour. The validity and reliability of methods and analyses is evaluated, and issues of conservation and management of alpine medicinal plant species under the community forestry scheme are discussed.
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