Most people in the Swat valley of northwest Pakistan practice subsistence farming, supplementing their income by collecting and selling wild harvested plants for use in herbal medicine. Previous work showed that the collectors did not know the potential long-term impacts of collecting wild plants. We hypothesized that establishment of ex situ cultivation plots for these most valuable species would provide a sustainable alternative and lead to development of skills in agricultural production and marketing among participants. Swat valley farmers were helped to establish plots in four locations and taught to cultivate ten medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs). In the first year, workshops were held on the financial benefits of growing MAPs for trade, criteria in selecting species, and strategies to improve MAP yield. In the second year, emphasis was placed on helping the farmers achieve a better price for their products by engaging them in discussions concerning criteria used in setting purchase prices. Seven of the ten cultivated MAPs yielded a better financial return than tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum L.), the traditional cash crop in the area. Cultivating MAPs can yield a higher financial return than traditional cash crops, but a long-term assessment is necessary. Offering training in collection, preservation, and marketing can enhance the financial return and the long-term benefits of cultivation. Introduction of standardized production technology and appropriate post-harvest management has become a prime engine of growth for the economies of the subsistence farmers participating in our study, and is leading to better management and conservation practices for MAPs and the landscapes in which they grow.
This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution. The final authenticated version is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10722-015-0346-z