Climate change, deforestation imperil medicinal trees, plants

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (DENR-ERDB), the principal research arm and thinktank of the DENR, led the conduct of the ASEAN Conference on Medicinal Forest Trees in Pampanga, citing the huge potential of medicinal trees for the health and wellness of Filipinos.

Some 117 participants from the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan took part in the three-day conference last week where experts underscored the need to implement active conservation efforts to protect and propagate medicinal plants amidst climate change and other threats, noting that the country has yet to maximize the economic value of medicinal plants.

Maria Lourdes G. Ferrer, ERDB director, said forest species studies reveal interconnected relationships between nature and human health used by indigenous people worldwide for disease treatment. Ferrer said there is a need to gather and preserve indigenous knowledge on medicinal plants and medicinal forest trees given their benefits and potential for economic activity.

“As we embark on this intellectual journey, let us remember that our discoveries have the potential to touch lives, alleviate suffering, and shape the course of healthcare and medicinal forest tree species conservation,” Ferrer said.

For his part, ERDB Assistant Director Conrado B. Marquez said habitat protection through active management of forests, and governance with the appropriate funding allocation are vital for medicinal forest trees to adapt and become resilient to climate change.

Marquez said the ERDB is mandated to develop protocols on propagation and plantation development and management.

“We are working now on a technology called tree fortification. We are trying to fortify trees in a manner that will make them more resilient to pests and to add to the viability and manageability of particular tree species,” Marquez said.

The objective of tree fortification is to protect threatened tree species and increase their population.

The ERDB is also doing other vegetative propagation measures such as cloning to address the scarcity of species.

Dr. Pastor Malabrigo Jr., professor at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, said that based on the database of medicinal species in the country 456 tree species have known medicinal value.

“We have 3,500 tree species. It’s safe to assume that we are underutilizing our plant resources. There are rare, threatened species, the public is not familiar with, which are not being used. We have to give attention to these,” Malabrigo said.

He encouraged the event poster presenters to publish their research on medicinal plants for people to recognize these and increase public awareness.