Will our children have the chance to discover new plant-based medicines when the need arises? Will they share the same privileges as we possess, to enjoy the myriads of orchids blooming in local forests? And most importantly, will they event want to conserve the Nepali floral treasure trove?                                                                        

A Treasure Trove of Orchids in Nepal

Recently, the ECS Living team met with Bijaya Pant, author and professor at the Central Department of Botany, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, to gain professional insight on the current situation of orchids in Nepal.

“An orchid in a deep forest sends out its fragrance even if no one is around to appreciate it.” – Confucius. Orchids are among the most threatened groups of plants due to habitat destruction and over-exploitation for food, medicine, horticulture and illegal collection of them. Bijaya often presents studies of this type for the orchid-rich flora of Nepal. Her team supports the conservation of the native species of Nepal and their continued utilization as traditional medicines.

Plants were always a fascinating topic for Bijaya. Even today, 80% of the world’s inhabitants depend on traditional plant medicines. Bijaya says there are lots of things to investigate and learn about, and that she is still learning. Throughout her journey, she got to know mesmerizing species of plants, for example orchids Jatamashi, Taxus which are very important as they cure deadly diseases such as cancer, diabetes. These plants are still found in our country, but it is unfortunate that there is no protection as many people do not understand its financial value. As a result, their population has declined.

Professor Bijaya and her team are passionately involved in research and development of the wild orchids of Nepal via micro-propagation, tissue culture, synthetic seed technologies and metabolite production for commercial utilization and conservation. They sell raw materials at a very low price, given that they import the same product at a very high price. So, if Nepal is able to develop this kind of technique in its own grounds, people and farmers living in rural areas will  benefit greatly.

Tissue culture is a commercial technology and many developed countries are using it for propagation of plants. Bijaya is trying to synthesize the plant tissue in laboratories in order to conserve endangered species of plants and to produce them commercially. So, when the species is to be very rare or extinct, the plant can be readily synthesized in the laboratory. Her goal is to produce these plant compounds artificially like they do in South Korea and Japan, for traditional and modern medicine. Moreover, being in the teaching profession, Bijaya expresses how happy she is as her concept is being disseminated through the younger generation.

When given the choice between Nepal and any foreign country, Bijaya started by saying that living abroad or in your own country is a personal choice. Many people find comfort and happiness in their own country, while there are others who think differently.

“Besides your own subject matter you can learn a lot of other things in foreign countries, such as social and cultural values. I spent five-six year in Japan as a PhD student, and it was a wonderful experience as I gained a lot of knowledge. From what I learnt in Japan, the most important lesson is that the Japanese have gone abroad, leant a lot  and have come back to build their country into the current blooming nation. At the moment, I am working and happy here, and whatever I have been contributing is for this country. Though it will make a small change, it can take flight beyond mountains in the future.” Bijaya adds on that when she came back from Japan, she had a kind of energy to contribute to Nepal, and she never regrets leaving all the facilities behind in Japan. Furthermore, she highlighted the fact that she has her whole family and loving relatives residing in Nepal, which just gives more reasons to stay back.

As far as Bijaya’s future plan goes, she’s been participating in many international seminars and conferences. Now, her team’s target is to identify which orchid is highly medicinal among the various types.  She is further working with local community people, so one day they can be successful in providing them with the necessary technology. Likewise, they have visited Daman and Chitlang which are orchid-rich areas, but also the areas where orchids are collected illegally.  Therefore, the farmers are taught conservation in their community forest.

Lastly, Bijaya is very satisfied with today’s youth as they have been concerned about the current situation of the nation. People are migrating from Nepal but Bijaya is sure they will come back, as when you go abroad, one will miss their own country even more.