Production of Medicinal Herbs, an Approach to Sustain the Rural Economy (Case Study: Villages in Ghochan County)
The concept of rural development in the lapse of time, and the concept of development in its broadest sense, have been subject to change. The attitudes towards rural areas and rural economy have also changed due to transformations in those areas and dominance of sustainable development models in recent decades. To the extent that in this model, sustainable livelihoods and economic security in rural areas have gained primary importance, because on the one hand, capacity utilization rate and actual and potential capabilities in economic activities should be raised through higher efficiency and effectiveness. On the other hand, to ensure the continuity of livelihoods, employment, and income, etc., economic activities in rural areas should be diversified.
Despite fundamental challenges facing rural economy, diversity in medicinal herbal species, climate variability, manpower and accessible energy resources are among Iran’s important potentials to increase medicinal plants cultivation and develop their relevant industries. Thus, research into production of medicinal plants has become an approach towards economic stabilization of the region in the framework of rural sustainable development model.
The World Bank predicts that the business of medicinal plants will reach $ 5 trillion by 2050, and Iran's share of the business is small. Today, 80 percent of local communities use medicinal herbs, and the World Health Organization pursues a program with the slogan of "Health for all by relying on the use of medicinal herbs". The trend towards the use of medicinal herbs in the West, compared to synthetic drugs is on the rise. Iran, with its brilliant history of medicine and its geographical and climatic potentials (11 types of climates out of 13 global ones), 300 days of sunshine per year, high plant diversity (8,500 species) provide good conditions for planting herbs and their processing. In Iran, the need to address the issue of rural development has been considered by government, and it plays a pivotal role in development policies. The present study was conducted to answer the following questions: - What are the economic advantages of medicinal herb production compared to other crops in the study area?
- Compared to common crops grown in the study area, how effective is the production of medicinal herbs in sustaining the rural economy?
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: Today, diversification of activities in rural areas is the basic solution for rural development in many communities. Unequal investment opportunities in the industrial and agricultural sector, low investment in agricultural sector and lack of diversity are among the issues represented in lack of diversity in jobs, the low level of production and productivity in agriculture, low wages, instability of economic activities resulting in poverty and backwardness and instability in rural areas in economic, social and environmental aspects. To avoid rural instability in different dimensions and in the context of sustainable rural development, the diversification of economic activities is a priority. One of the approaches discussed in the context of sustainable rural development approach is "diversification of economic activities". Making a good use of the geographic infrastructure in rural areas, the heavy dependence relationship between natural resources and their impact on environmental sustainability, and the great need for manpower in agriculture in general make ground for various activities in rural areas that help to stabilize the prices of agricultural products.
Medicinal plants are plants that one or some parts of them contain biologically active substances, and have biological impacts on the body of organisms; such plants are planted, cultivated and harvested only for their medicinal properties.
Medical herbs introduced to the researcher based on a preliminary survey of administrators, producers, professors and researchers of medicinal plants included: Echium pininana, Thymus, Cumin, Yarrow, Ferula gummosa and peppermint.
The research was an applied–developmental one conducted in a descriptive-analytical method. The data were collected through documentary research and fieldworks. To determine the sample size, we used Krejcie Morgan sample size table. 336 heads of households out of a total of 2658 households were selected as samples and questionnaires were filled out by households in rural areas of the Ghochan County. Besides, at this stage the experts relevant to the project (including producers, experts and public managers of medicinal plants, and researchers) also completed the questionnaires.
For data analysis, descriptive and inferential statistical methods were used. From descriptive statistics, frequency tables, and percentages were used. From inferential statistics, we used Kolomograph-Smirnov test to determine normal variables; single sample tests were also used to answer research hypothesis.
- Dependent variable of the study is ‘to sustain the rural economy through producing medicinal herbs’.
- Independent variables of the study are: ‘income generation, job creation, saving water, the desire to plant medicinal plants’.
According to the survey results, 80 percent of farmers believe that shopping centers dedicated to herbal products may increase their motivation ‘to a high and very high extent’. These statistics indicate that one of the concerns of the villagers, in addition to production, is marketing.
According to the results, the average income per hectare of medicinal herbs in the study area, is 205795090 Rials, and the average income per hectare of other crops is 79442360 Rials. Accordingly, medicinal herbs compared to other common crops produce 159 percent more income per hectare. Therefore, the first hypothesis which assumes "medicinal herbs compared to other crops cultivated in the study area are more profitable" is confirmed. As the results show each hectare of medical herbs, compared to other crops, created 206 percent more employment opportunities. Hence, the second hypothesis, which assumes that medical herbs create more jobs opportunities than other crops, is confirmed.
According to our surveys on average water consumption, medicinal herbs compared to other crops need 25 percent more irrigation. Considering the fact that medicinal herbs generate significantly more income (159%) and more job opportunities (206%) than other crops grown in the area, and their affordable water consumption, the third hypothesis is also confirmed. However, state support for villagers has also been effective in increasing their desire to grow medicinal herbs.
As the results of the questionnaire survey in two groups of experts and villagers show, we can conclude that despite the fact that crops such as wheat and barley compared to medicinal herbs need less number of irrigation, water use efficiency in medicinal herbs over five years, is higher than conventional crops in the area. For example, for wheat 4 times irrigation in the growing season is necessary, while for thyme 12 times is essential. However, looking ahead we can assume that each year for wheat, the cost of sowing and land preparation is essential and every year the same amount of water is also needed. But after planting the thyme, for example, in each year the number of irrigation decreases.
Therefore, the cost of production declines and eventually, there would be a higher economic efficiency of water use. In general, as the participants’ views suggest, what is important in the trade-off of water use and water saving between growing medicinal herbs and conventional crops, is the optimal use of water in production of medicinal herbs.
Journal of Research and Rural Planning, Volume:6 Issue: 1, 2017
173 to 187  
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