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His Father's Woes
Manisha Aryal's article on Himalayan herbs belittles Nepali professionals and perpetuates the inferiority complex that we Nepalis have. Aryal has covered many aspects of the Nepali herbal trade and goes into great pains to collect opinions from many Indian business people and one Indian scientist. I appreciate this effort. But there is very little of Nepal in the article. Talking to token businessmen, customs people and Government administrators does not provide the complete picture.
This phenomenon of treating high quality professionals with little respect is pervasive of our society; we would much rather take advice from a foreigner and trust his technical knowledge. Wake-up folks! There are Nepali professionals who are just as eompetent and well trained as many
in its Sept/Oet 1992 issue, Himalcarried an obituary of Cristpph von Furer-Haimendort, doyen of Himalayan anthropology. Much to our relief, we were informed recently that Prof. Furer-Haimendorf has in fact not passed away, and probably had a good laugh. Our report was based on an announcement made by the organisers of the Nepal anthropology conference heldinSep-tember 1992 at Hotel Vajra, Kathmandu. A minute'ssilencewasobservedinProf.Furer-Haimendorfs "memory" at the inauguration ceremony on 6 September.
foreign professionals. And there are many Nepali botanists and field scientists who know the Nepali herbal arena well.
One such world-class professional who should have been consulted but was not (even though Himal was alerted twice upon its own request) is Dr. Narayan P. Manandhar, who has worked as an ethno-botanist for almost 30 years for the Nepali Government. He happens to be my father and a very competent fellow scientist.
As a lone researcher and field scientist. Dr. Manandhar persevered even when his own superiors were against his scientific work. Time after time, he would be transferred to outlying areas, much to the distress of a family in which both parents were professionals and had three sons to look after. After Dr. Manandhar published some of his work in the GorkhapaSra and The Rising Nepal dailies, his superiors threatened to sack him. Succumbing to this threat, Dr. Manandhar stopped all publication, but continued to provide vital field information to novice foreign scientists upon his superiors' commands. The department looked on while these novice botanists published glossy booKs that were scientifically third-rate.
As the love for his field grew, he travelled extensively around Nepal to collect botanical data, directly from the villagers. His method was not with the tape-recorder, or by dangling a five or ten rupee note in front of the villagers as many foreign scientists do. It was by befriending the villagers, living with them for days or weeks on end, solving their problems, and only then asking them about their herbal medicine practices. When Dr. Manandhar defiantly started publishing papers and books, botanists all around the world started realising the wealth of infoitnation provided by his work. In 1980, he took the initiative to start the ethnobotanic study division in his department. By 1983. he had travelled to
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The box item "The Government Cannot Promote Herbs" by Manisha Aryal in Himal's herbal issue was interesting and thought-provoking. But I wonder how Aryal came to the conclusion that "the ethnobotanic studies conducted at the herbarium are limited to collecting plants and sticking them in paper".
I am unable to comment on the other divisions of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, but her statement on National Herbarium and Plant Laboratories is baseless and sensational. Had Aryal visited or called anyone at the Herbarium, she would have found that it was established in 1960 for taxonomical studies, whereas the ethnobotanic study started in 1980, at the initiative of a botanist working there.
Ethnobotany does not have a long history even in other developing countries, and in Nepal it is still at its initial stages. Yet contributions that have been made should not be undermined by ignorant generalisations. More than 50 books, articles and reports have already been published from the ethnobotanic section, and many interested Nepali and foreign individuals have received free information service concerning various aspects of
economic plants of the country. There is no other branch of botany that has made such a contribution in Nepal.
Although the collection of plants, preparation of herbarium, and sticking them in paper appears to be an unimportant task to Aryal, it happens to be a vital part of ethnobotany. Once the plant, is stuck on paper, it acts as a reference book in a library ■—with 'live' examples of plants for scientists to refer to.
our system, where scientists are required to operate under an )tf's *%4 amazing maze of bureau-
"V * \i'// cracy, sometimes it is 1^# ~f/" •*** difficult for a scientist to *^do much with his or her
research. The findings of ethnobotanic studies and their utilisation depend upon the higher authorities and the planning personnel.
More rigorous, mature and painstaking effort is anticipated in the future from Himal, especially the confirmation of facts gathered through second and third party sources. Command of the English language is not the only criterion to print such generalisations.
Narayan P Manandhar National Herbarium and Plant Laboratories Godavari, Kathmandu
Manisha Aryal responds:
Both father and son Manandhars seem to have missed the forest for the trees. My article was neitherabout foreigner-dominated Nepali scientists, nor about the ethnobotany section of the National Herbarium and Plant Laboratories. It was an attempt to bring to light a neglected Himalayan (and not just Nepali) resource that is delivering vast earnings — for everyone else (including eth no botanists) but the villagers of remote mountain hamlets.
Narayan P. Manandhar's education andethnobotanical expertise were neverindoubt, which was why I feft three telephone messages at his office, which were never returned. (Why does Sanjay Manandhar feel the need to have foreign journals vouch for his father's qualifications?) While researching the article in Kathmandu, Lucknow and New Delhi, I contacted qualified ecologists, economists, activists, politician sand eth no botanists, most of whom have not been named or quoted in the article.
As for the relevance of ethnobotany to the real-life conditions in the rural Himalaya, I believe that local scientists have the obligation to help ensure that villagers get their rightful share of profits which are presently being kept by middlemen and merchants. Because scientists, like Dr. Manandhar, know more than others, including journalists.
2 . HIMAL Mar/Apr 1993
"As theplains faced: woman in her stationwagon a
'■■■ :•saileddowriExpbitionRoacI, an insectije proboscis masking-ltps andnose, was thenndiscrsiriijiate"air,'cleansedfor her alone,:, ;s ..;.;...; y.made^bf her presence, by her car ■passing, any easier to breathe; for'the campus students,; 2 " : for the women sweeping the sidewalk; for the girl beneath the rbad scrubbing clothes where the soo&lack river barely flows and tpeiipn-faced buddhas [ refteci nothing? Al ljie conference s orj the;Environment and Family Pjapninj : beneath the lectern where she; stands, : tnsfcskjike:lines on the lips arid "hoisef-*- insectile and plainly speaking, set in motion* by a voice strident in tone, the participants— masks distributed* donned theirs; and considering this question giaglahglagraglagla droned on and on,
Wayne Amtzis, Kathmahdii
Nepali Plants, Foreign Medicines
We have been working for the last twelve years in the field of plants and ayurvedic medicine and were delighted to read the article "Diverted Wealth: The Trade in Himalayan Herbs"' (Jan/Feb 1993).
Plants and ayurveda together constitute a gold mine for Nepal's economy, and international pharmaceutical industries have already started to show interest in. Nepali herbs and the pharmacology of ayurveda. The country has both the raw material and the market for ayurvedic medicines.
Yet, every year, Indian ayurvedic drugs worth crores are imported into the country. Why can't they be produced in Nepal? Why have the international pharmaceutical industries been slow in exploring investment possibilities? Why are expensive allopathic medicines imported while priceless Himalayan herbs arc allowed to be smuggled out?
The answer is actually very simple — it is impossible to invest in Nepal. The business incentives for potential investors in traditional medicine are quite inadequate. To add to this, these days there is no electricity, no water, no diesel and no petrol. On average, it takes more than a year to register a company, not to mention the numerous other battles in trying to get a drug registered and out in the market. Also, the law is such that it is easier for a foreign company to sell in Nepal than for a Nepali (or a joint venture) company. No investor would be stupid enough to throw a crore rupees (NRs 10 million, the minimum limit for a joint venture) just for the pleasure of facing these harassments.
Access to media advertising is important for any company. Indian companies can advertise their products without the approval of Department of Drug Administration, whereas a Nepali company has to get permission to do so. Today, a small advertising campaign costs over NRs 400,000, the kind of money small industries and private entrepreneurs do not have. If the Government redly wants to promote small industries and Nepali products (and not just tobacco and alcohol), it must help by providing special rates in newspapers, Tadio and television.
man to invest in India or even to smuggle plants and plant materials across the border, and for a foreign company to buy the contraband Nepali herbs in India.
A few years ago, Elhnodex, a French company, placed an order for amala (Emblica officinalis), which is among the more common Himalayan fruits found in Nepal. It took more than two months to despatch the consignment officially from KfUhmandu, whereas the company's shipment of the same fruit from India reached France within two weeks. Companies do not have that kind of time to waste.
During our 12-year stay in Nepal, we helped establish two ayurvedic factories and trained hundreds of villagers in collection and cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants. We were trying to establish manpower capable of competing against the herbal and ayurvedic monopolies. In doing so, however, we had to face numerous difficulties; including police harassment.
We aiso worked with the Department of Ayurveda and helped set up an ayurvedic rural pharmacy in Pharping, south of Katlimandu, with support from the World Health Organisation. We trained Government workers to acquire technical and managerial skills, and on collection, processing and cultivation of medicinal plants. Today, the trained workers have all been transferred. There is no budget either
6ri the Distfibuti0H;
to buy, process or cultivate medicinal plants or to pay staff salary. Three sets of machinery lie gathering dust at Pharping.
Singha Durbar Vaidhyakhana (the Nepali Government's ayurvedic drug producing unit, inherited from the Rana times) is in nearly the same state of desolation. Despite the availability of machinery, processing is still done manually. There is always a shortage of ayurvedic medicines in the ayurvedic dispensaries operated by the Government, whereas the dispensary administrators stock and sell Indian medicines in Lheir own shops right next to the Government dispensaries. Which gives rise to the question, do Indian companies pay government officials to sell their medicines in Nepal?
Since time immemorial, Nepal's villagers have relied on dhami-jhakris (shamans), sundenis (birth attendants) and vaidyas (ayurvedic doctors) for health care. These practitioners of traditional medicine have always relied on herbs that are locally available. Bui the health programme of the Government of Nepal is propagating only modem medicines. The community health programmes for villages are designed by doctors trained in modem allopatliic treatment; even excellent allopathic doctors find themselves completely at loss when they have to work on ayurveda or other traditional medicines.
Although both ayurvedic and allopathic medicines are sciences of healing, (hey do not follow the same principles. Traditional medicine is conceptually different from modem medicine and should
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not be viewed within one framework. Development organisations working in rural health care have started training dhami-jhakris and the sundenis on basic allopathic medicines. This move takes traditional medicine into the arena of modern health care, but cannot be sustainable. It would be far more beneficial to train them in ayurveda or naturopathy — which uses local raw material for curing patients. This would also inspire confidence among the traditional healers, who would be encouraged to Tefer complicated cases to Government hospitals.
Today the ratio of an allopathic doctor to population is 1:30,000. It will take a long time to train enough modern doctors for the country's needs, and even then we know well that they will not go and work in remote villages. And where will the foreign currency to buy all that equipment and medicine come from? Besides, will the villagers of Nepal be able to afford allopathic medical care when it is finally brought to them?
Isabelle & Jacques Lecup Arras, France
With regard to the debate on liasion officers (mountaineering issue, Nov/Dec 1992), we recently received permission to cross over from Mustang into Upper Dolpo via the Sangda La. The LO assigned to us was a keen young policeman from the Tarai.
As we began the first day's easy walk up to Ghandrung, it became clear there was trouble ahead. After an hour's climbing, in between gasps, the LO told us that the limits of his daily exercise had been a 15-minute walk to office. We got to Ghan-drung at 6 p.m., and our porters a half hour later. The LO and our Thakati friend, who was cajoling him along, arrived at 10 pm.
On Day Two, we had expected to make it to Ghasa, but had to stop two hours before the village as it was getting dark and there was no sign of our LO. The following day, trying to find an excuse to cancel our programme and terminate his own suffering, the LO consulted with some locals and was only too pleased to inform us thai Sangda La was snowed in. We knew better than to believe this, for the Thakalis of this area do not know this route well.
We decided to find a way to send him home as it would be irresponsible to make him cross the high pass on steep and
dangerous trails. Our medical doctor gave him a thorough health check-up at Tukuche, but added in the health report that the LO had altitude sickness and must descend to lower climes. He willingly accepted this way out of his predicament, but not without asking his full pay of an expected NRs 20,000. We gave him a "down payment" of NRs 5000 and sent our LO packing.
We crossed Hidden Valley, Mulug Pass, and Upper Dolpo with a lot of enjoyment. We could not communicate with the locals, but the Nepali-speaking Tarai-based policeman would not have been of help. His presence would have ruined a trip on which we had invested a lot of time, money and expectations.'
We have not understood what criteria the respective government departments use when selecting staff for such assignments.
Journalistic bias in reporting Bhutan is one thing, but the'presentation of supposedly objective academic papers based
almost solely on Bhutanese government statistics is quite another. '"A free and trank discussion" was one of the purported purposes of the conference, but the problem was that too many Western academics whose livelihood depends on the next visa to Thimphu did not feel free to be Frank. I detected in more than one speaker in the "establishment camp", however, the same unease beneath the rhetoric that I had sensed in a young Drukpa in Thimphu last year who knew deep down that all was far from well in his country; indeed, he gave the impression that he would prefer to know the complexity of the truth rather than the simplicity of the official government line.
I plead guilty to remaining anonymous; we all have our own reasons for doing so. But I should like to believe that there are many Drukpas who do not choose to see theiT beautiful country torn apart in this way. I should also like to assure sceptics — as far as I am capable of exercising rational human judgement — that the overwhelming majority of refugees have gone to the camps neither on a paid holiday, nor for the heck of it, nor to gain an education in terrorism. The longer they remain, however, the more precarious the situation is likely to become. Given India's apparent indifference towards the refugee issue, I fully endorse Michael Aris's suggestion at the conference that independent mediation between Bhutan, Nepal and even India is the only way forward,
(Name witheld upon request)
Mea Culpa, too
I would like to correct an error id my own letter (Nov/Dec 1992) referring to Nigel J.R.Allan's article "False Geographies" (Sep/Oct 1992). All the significant activities of the British subsequent to Younghusband's expulsion by Yanov in 1891 did take place within the geographical bounds of the South Asian watershed. It is the upper margins, not the lowlands, which define a watershed. Hunza, Chitral and Lhasa all definitely He within this area. The consulate at Kashgar had, in fact, been established prior to that point in time. Apologies from a chagrined geographer. Paul Lundberg Lalitpur.
Mar/Apr 1993 HIMAL . 5
The exquisite Woodcarring
It's more than an art It's an Exuberant Demonstration of a Rich Tradition It's an Eloquent Expression of a Living Culture It's a Wondrous Display of a Timeless Heritage It '$ a Priceless Ornament of two Religions in Perfect Harmony
The Summit Hotel in Katkmandu
It's more than a Hotel It's a Tribute to Traditional Nepali Hospitality It's a Homage to a Magnificent Nepali Architecture It's a Commitment to Quality of Service and Care It's a Guarantee for your Comfort and Pleasure
Hill Hinduism, monarchy and the Nepali language — the conventional symbols of a historically weak Nepali nationalism — are all presently under attack. A crisis of identity prevails among Nepal's educated.