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Herbs and Traders in Transit: Border Regimes and the Contemporary Trans-Himalayan Trade in Tibetan Medicinal Plants

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image of Asian Medicine

This article discusses the contemporary cross-border trade in medicinal plants between Nepal and Tibet. As Tibetan pharmacy extensively relies on raw materials not native to Tibet, long-distance trade in medicinal materials is not a new phenomenon. However, with the recent creation of a Tibetan medicine industry in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the increasing demand for herbs from India and Nepal, the contemporary herb trade is facing new challenges. Surging trade volumes, notions of patient safety, growing ecological concerns, and the current political situation in Tibet have led to increased efforts at rendering legible and controlling the transit of traders and herbs across the border. The ethnographic account of a Tibetan plant trader’s business trip to Nepal serves as a starting point for a discussion of these efforts and the traders’ tactical manoeuvres to deal with them. The notion of ‘border regimes’ is introduced to analyse the regulations, their implementation and side-effects that condition the current situation.


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