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Why Himalayan Herbs are Going Extinct?

Posted on: Feb 6, 2013

Why Himalyan Herbs are Going Extinct!

 By Prashanti de Jager 2012 

The reason why so many precious, rare and endemic Himalyan herbs are going extinct is that, to put it mildly, when it comes to stewardship of the Himalayas, humans are failing miserably.  One of the many tragic results of this failure is that some of the most precious herbs on earth are extinct or near extinction. 

There is a long history of humans living sustainably in the Himalayas, in fact, some of the most beautiful and insightful compilations of rules for sustainability were created thousands of years ago by Himalayan-centric cultures.  The basic problem has arisen in the last 300 years, starting with the British who extensively exploited India in general and the Himalayas specifically.  For instance, the Himalayas were once full of Oak and Cedar, which support the ecology and helps bring in both rain and erosion control.  The British cut down most of them to use in building their empire, from ships to desks.  To make matters worse, they planted pines in their stead, which only serves to further destroy the habitat of almost all Himalayan species. 

As I write this today, July of 2012, thousands of Kumaon farmers are facing drought and enormous suffering due to this British legacy of chopping down the ancient Oaks and replanting in their stead monocrops of pine.

In fact, their legacy of exploitation has continued to the present so seamlessly that the 20th century Indian politicians who carry on this same violent abusiveness are called ‘Black British’ by their Indian peers.  Note that whenever I use the term, ‘the 1%,’ in this article I refer to those politicians, bureaucrats and business men from around the world, including the Indians, and the ‘Black British,’ who have been and are actively engaged in recklessly exploiting Himalayan resources for their own financial gains.

The rest of this article describes a few of the facets of the general scenario in the Himalayas, and specifically how they relate to the extinction of rare and precious medicinal herbs.  Much of the following is edited selections from the manifesto of Himalayan conservation entitled, “The People’s Policy for the Himalayas,” written mainly by my dear friends and allies Suresh Bhai and Manoj Pandey.

PRIVATIZATION AND GLOBALIZATION OF RESOURCES

  • This is the fundamental problem and source of most Himalayan exploitation
  • Indian Business men and Politicians, the 1%, have succeeded in the privatization and globalization of Himalayan water, land and forest resources
  • These resources really belong to no human and have been stewarded by Himalayan tribes for thousands of years
  • Local populace has lost all control over the land, water and forest resources in the area.
  • The careers and activities and lives of the government officials who are honest and do have integrity are harassed/threatened by the 1% and corporations. 

WATER RESOURCES HORRIBLY MISMANAGED

  • The 1% are building over a thousand tunnel based dams that dry up the free flowing rivers and cause tragic amounts of social and environmental damage
  • Historically, 60% of the water requirement of India is met by the rivers that flow out of the Himalayas, but due to mismanagement this number is plummeting and soon many rivers will be dry
  • Already many of the rivers which have been perpetual for millions of years are now becoming seasonal, even the Ganga has places that are dry
  • Research conducted by the famous scientist Dr. K.S. Waldia shows that 50% of the water sources in the Himalayas have dried up and the once perennial rivers have now become seasonal.
  • Local people and ecosystems are becoming thirstier by the year and are loosing access to water and thus all flora suffers
  • Micro hydro-electric projects are successful and support local people and ecosystems, however these are being replaced by major dams.
  • During the servicing of dam turbines attached to the big hydroelectric projects tons and tons of accumulated sand is dumped into the river. This is turning the fertile lands downstream into sandy wastes.  This destroys herb habitats.
  • The 1% have initiated ‘Developmental programs’ using dynamite, tunnelling machines and excavators in digging tunnels and large scale mining scenarios which have destroyed the environment, homes and livelihoods, reduced herb friendly ecosystems, and weakened the rock structure around the area of their operation. 
  • The internal damage caused by this unskillful use of destructive force has literally aggravated the structural integrity of the mountains leading to an increase in cases of landslides and landslips where whole ecosystems, whole villages and their lands have been consumed, not to mention ground water disturbances.
  • The rivers are being reduced to drains that carry the debris of these projects and the rivers downstream of these projects are drying up for miles together. As a result the ecology of the rivers and its surroundings are being destroyed.
  • Whatever water that remains in the rivers is sucked up by large hotels, restaurants and commercial interests leaving the poor in the village waterless
  • Instead of solutions being sought to stop the over 40% loss of electricity that is now taking place during electricity transmission the 1% are constructing new projects that are increasingly destructive to the environment and cause great harm to the people and the ecosystems.
  • It is not as if the affected people, the 99%, have not protested and fought back, but no one hears their voices of protest that have emerged out of their despair.
  • The careers and activities and lives of the involved Government officials who are actually honest and do have integrity are harassed/threatened by the 1% and corporations.

REFUGEES OF DISPLACEMENT/DESTRUCTION OF ECOSYSTEMS

  • Human and ecosystem displacement of people due to mismanaged forests and the over 1000 hydro- electric projects is a cause for concern as this violence has endless repercussions, including sending herbs into extinction.
  • This inhuman and mindless treatment of the people in the Himalayan region is appalling and none of the Himalayan states have prepared any plans for their resettlement or rehabilitation, which has effected 30% of the population, a number which will only grow
  • Some of the displaced people leave the mountains for the cities where they live horrible lives in predictable squalor and leave less people of the 99% in the Himalayas to fight the 1% for their rights and for the rights of the ecosystems there.
  • Some of the displaced people go higher in the mountains thereby grazing their animals (Yak, Cows, Sheep, Goat) on the flora of high altitude meadows which greatly reduces the number of herbs growing at those altitudes.  This also reduces the number of the 99% at medium altitudes who can stand and fight the 1%.
  • Because the 1% has outlawed local people from using their local resources, the local people have to go deeper into the mountains and this represents more strain on the ecosystem which means less medicinal herbs.

HIMALAYAS ARE TECTONICALLY VERY ACTIVE

  • The Himalayas are the newest Mountains on Earth and thus very active
  • Extremely unskillful methods of building Dams and Roads and Buildings have made the Himalayas all the more susceptible to seismic activity, damaging ecosystems all the more
  • It is widely known that the unskillful human intervention of the 1% in the name of development is the main cause for excessive earthquake sensitivity, land slides, land sinking, loss of ground water, loss of surface water, and loss of ecosystems
  • All Himalayan states are ecologically sensitive as they are prone to flash floods, earthquakes and landslides, and now they have been made all the more sensitive, with endless examples of tragic results
  • The traditional knowledge base and experience that has helped the local populace to deal with such natural calamities in the past has been largely ignored.

 FORESTS ARE HISTORICALLY TRAGICALLY MISMANAGED

  • Most forest laws have been in force since the time of the British and have a natural tendency to support the 1% and hurt the 99%
  • Centuries of mindlessly felling of trees
  • Centuries of monocropping of trees
  • Centuries of planting of pine trees for resin
  • Centuries of reduction in the number of broad leaved trees, especially the Oak
  • Intentionally ignited forest fires that assist the 1% to further exploit virgin forests
  • Massive extinction of the diverse species of flora and fauna in the region has already occurred
  • Mismanagement of water resources, drying up of water sources, rivers and the shrinking of glaciers has disturbed the ecological balance and has led to the continuous deterioration of the already weakened environment
  • The present commercial forest policies adopted by the present forest department has led to the continued monoplantation of pine trees for their resin which is sold to the industries often to the financial advantage of the forestry official in charge.
  • These plantations cover vast areas of the Himalayas and do not support healthy ecosystems
  • These plantations have not only dried up water resources and reduced undergrowth but have also raised the ambient atmospheric temperature causing further destruction of natural resources.
  • These plantations generate pine needles that make the land they fall on infertile
  • These plantations generate a sap which is very incendiary and which leads to uncontrollable forest fires which cause unaccountable destruction to the green cover in the Himalayas
  • The plantations generate smoke which contributes in no small measure to air pollution and Global Warming and which also threatened ecosystems.
  • The plantations generate a dreadful and tragic climatic change in the Himalayas as the reduction in the acreage of broadleaved trees reduces the water retention ability of the mountains which reduces the soil moisture content on the slopes and thereby increases the humidity in the air which increases the average annual temperature and a decrease the rainfall.
  • The careers and activities of the forestry officials who are honest and do have integrity are harassed/threatened by the 1% and corporations.

ELITE EXCLUSIVE TOURISM

  • This has endangered the sacred purity, cultural identity and self esteem of the Himalayas
  • Since time immemorial the Himalayas have been the destination of pilgrims and thus the villages on these pilgrimage routes benefited economically from this pilgrim traffic. But now it is these big hotels and a few rich families in these areas that reap the benefits of pilgrimage tourism.
  • As a consequence tourism in the Himalayas that was once closely associated with faith and belief of the people is now attracting tourists who are more interested in materialistic comforts and personal pleasures, in other words, little respect for the environment
  • This is adversely affecting the society and culture of the Himalayan people and marginalising them. The once proud people, men, women and children, of the Himalayas have been reduced to the category of daily wage earning porters, laborers, handy men, and sexual objects.
  • Causes extensive waste of resources
  • Causes additional damage to fragile ecosystems by the unskillful construction of needless roads, buildings and ski slopes.
  • Tends to support the 1% only
  • Tends to further alienate the local Himalayan people
  • Tends to increase local sex/labor trafficking of women and children
  • Tend to support irresponsible harvesting of wild herbs to support symptoms of ‘rich man disease’ like sexual impotence. 

CENTRAL GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION DEMANDING NON-SUSTAINABLE NON-TRADITIONAL CROPS TO BE GROWN. 

  • The Himalayas in themselves are an organic whole. The people living here have been growing multiple crops on their fields for centuries. But government plans and policies have never quite understood this and the traditional sustainable organic agricultural and animal rearing practices have been ignored, unsupported and actually discriminated against
  • It would be beneficial if these traditional practices were encouraged but just the opposite is true
  • In the name of modernizing agriculture the Indian government and the 1% has introduced chemical fertilizers and seeds produced by multi nationals and has turned what used to be natural and organic into something artificial and inorganic and not certainly not sustainable. 
  • The careers and activities and lives of the government officials who are honest and do have integrity are harassed/threatened by the 1% and corporations.

MEDICINAL PLANTS SQUANDERED BY PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES

  • Historically the Himalayas are a vast reservoir of medicinal plants and herbs that have great economic potential.
  • This potential can only be realized if the people grow these plants and the government supports their efforts by purchasing them promptly.
  • Despite this being brought to the notice of the concerned authorities from time to time, potential growers have typically faced disappointment.
  • Instead pharmaceutical companies directly get in touch with the local forest administration and buy up these medicinal plants that grow only at high altitudes and remote places cheaply from local harvesters and agents, who are tend to be starving because they have been displaced so they need to make money somehow.
  • This indirect economic exploitation is being carried out under the very nose of the Forest Department.
  • Rarely is there any concern around sustainability is part of this illegal interactions between pharmaceutical companies and the local forest administration
  • The careers and activities and lives of the forestry officials who are honest and do have integrity are harassed/threatened by the 1% and corporations.

IRRESPONSIBLE ROAD CONSTURCTION

  • Damaging techniques of road construction where the debris removed from the mountain side is thoughtlessly dumped down the slopes has affected the smooth flow of the rivers and during the monsoons the rivers become unmanageable and assume enormously destructive proportions causing untold damage to life, goods and standing crops.
  • Heavy Machinery used in road construction wreaks havoc in the ecosystems

So these are a few of the reasons why precious herbs are going extinct in the Himalayas!  This is why Dunagiri Foundation is supporting the organic sustainable cultivation of some of these precious herbs like Kutki, Atis, Jatamansi, and Pushkarmool.

There is nothing that I have written here that I have not seen with my own eyes.  The drive and views from Rishikesh to Gangotri used to be so beautiful and now I actually cannot drive to Gangotri anymore as it is so incredibly sad and painful to see the tragic endless carnage wrought by the 1% on these Mountains.  

Thank you for reading this description of how one of the worlds greatest and most beautiful areas of mega biodiversity is being threatened by the 1%.  Please support Himalayan Sustainability.  This being called Himavant, and all the beings on him, are so worth saving!

Thanks!

Prashanti

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