Ethnobotany Survey into Hponkanrazi

A journey on searching the traditional wisdom of plant use and promoting the conservation in the most secret Myanmar Mountain.

Hponkanrazi, located in the north most part of Myanmar in Kachin State, forms an important component of eastern Himalaya range. It lies in the center part of Indo-Burma hot spot, a globally biodiversity rich area. In contrast to its rich biodiversity, the research on the status, threats and conservation of biodiversity in these area is generally lacking due to the physical and political inaccessibility in the past decades. 

Recently, researchers from Southeast Asian Biodiversity Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Forest Research Institute of Myanmar, New York botanical garden have made intensively field surveys on the plant, animal, insects and fish diversity. New species and genus are continuously discovered, reflecting the facts of rich but under studied biodiversity in this region. 

So far, no study have reported the use of plants and its attached fold knowledge in this area, which is a critical driver for conserving the rich natural assets. To fill in this gap, a joint team including members from ICIMOD, NWCD, WCS, and CAS-SEABRI carried out in Ethnobotanical survey covering 9 villages around Hpokanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary in April 2018. The field survey was funded by the GEF programme (implemented by FD and WCS) with technical backup from ICIMOD and SEABRI through HILIFE Programme. 

Survey Team


U Hti Na (Community guard), U Syn Bay (WCS), U Thiha Zaw (NWCD), U Pyae Phyo Hein (CAS), U Htet Wai Aung (WSC), U AungThu Moe ( ICIMOD) (From left to right)

Purposes of the survey

The main objective of this study is to understand the extent of plant species used by the local people and associated knowledge and management practices. We carried out according to the following specific objectives:

1. To build the capacity of HILIFE partners and field participants in using various participatory tools and approaches for ethno-botanical survey;

2. To collect information on the types and quantities of plant resources used by the communities and ways of uses (ways of the resource using methods) and related traditional knowledge;

3. To identify areas where further project interventions can be made to support communities in sustainable management of local resources;

4. To raise the awareness of local communities on the current status of their use of local resources and the importance for sustainable management.

Pre-survey training on Ethnobotanical methods

Before setting out for field work, two days orientation meeting/mini workshop has been organized in Putao for all the field team staff/members to discuss objectives, outputs, methodology and field planning and how to conduct survey with the technical guidance of Mr. Kamal Aryal from ICIMOD and also Dr. Xuefei Yang from KIB presented the knowledge about the ethno-botany. 


Training on methods of Ethnobotany survey

Field survey

We carried out field survey for 15 days. It takes 3- 6 hours to go from one village to another by foot. In every village, we made the focus group discussion first and carried out the PRAs tools including (1) Mobility map, (2) Seasonal calendar, (3) Pairwise ranking, (4) Four quadrant cells.


PRA tools

Preliminary Findings

We documented 103 species of uncultivated plants and collected their specimens. The further detailed identification is still needed. The drafted classification is as follow:


According to the survey, self-subsistence is the major livelihood in these villages. Local people possess good knowledge of plants and the wisdom to use them for their daily life as food, medicine, decoration, fodder, household construction material and utensil, and for culture purpose.

Conservation issue for future concern

There is a growing threat of collecting wild medicinal plants in Hpokanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary. The most prominent example is the collection of rhizomes of Sarchi (local name for Paris species). 

Local people, even people from other place travels weeks in the deep forest in searching for this valuable medicinal plant. It is harvested and sold to China, though most of the collector do not have the knowledge on the therapy function and usage of this plant. The price of dried Sarchi is 270000-300000 MMK (200-250 USD) for 1 viss (1.6kg),  approximately 120-150 USD/kg. 


Sarchi plant (Paris sp.)

The huge economic incentive of collecting medicinal plants exerts potential threat on the wild populations. Plant individuals of small size and related species of non-medicinal value are blindly collected due to the lack of knowledge and information from demanding users.


Sarchi of small size collected by villagers which is hardly with medicinal value

Awareness and education is urgently needed, a wise management approach and regulation should be developed to safeguard these valuable resources.