Medicinal herbs, largely organic, are part of the $36.89 billion global market for organic food. The demand for medicinal plant-based raw materials is growing at the rate of 15 to 25 per cent annually. According to the estimate of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the demand for medicinal plants is likely to increase from the current $14 billion a year to $5 trillion in 2050.
The global trade in medicines and food supplements made out of herbs is, however, higher at $60 billion a year, of which Indias total turnover is only Rs 2,300 crore.
Out of this Rs 2,300-crore annual turnover, major over-the-counter (OTC) products contribute around Rs 1,200 crore, other formulations fetch around Rs 650 crore, while classical Ayurvedic formulations contribute the remaining Rs 450 crore.
According to WHO, there are about 400 families of flowering medicinal plants in the world, out of which at least 315 are found in India. In this context, the adviser in the Union ministry for science and technology, Dr Manju Sharma, while inaugurating an international conference on medicinal herbs and products, organised jointly by Oxfam GB in India and the Community Enterprise Forum of India (CEFI) in Delhi, said, We, therefore, can capitalise on this natural inherent strength and caputre large part of the growing trade, provided we remain price competitive and ensure quality of the produce and maintain standards.
Noted agri scientist Dr MS Swaminathan said, The main issues involves four Cs - Conservation, Consumption, Commercialisation and Convergence. Organic farming of medicinal plants should be promoted and health literacy movemements should include ayurvedic, siddha and other Indian systems of medicines in their ambit.
Moreover, brand names need to be established for sustainable commercialisation. He also mooted setting up of an International Research Centre for Intercultural Synergy for Herbal Healthcare to achieve a synthesis of the best in Indian, Chinese and African systems of medicines.
However, the spectacular growth of Indian exports, expected in medicinal plants, is yet to be realised. A major fraction of the domestic market is still unorganised and, therefore, not reported in most of the published data.
A recent Oxfam GB supported study conducted in seven states namely Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala shows that trade in top 25 species account for more than Rs 14 crore.
On an average, each of these states witnesses trade in more than 300 species in considerable volumes. It can be reasonably concluded that the total volume of the market in these seven states alone is almost 10 times the government figures, the study said.
The study further said that the most important fact is that these figures only represent figures at the lowest end of the medicinal plant supply chain, these are at the producer level.
As value is added further up the chain so is the profit and the trade figures in terms of value are substantial if the total supply chain is taken into consideration.
A number of NGOs are in the field of motivating farmers to grow medicinal herbs. The government has set up National Medicinal Plants Board for rendering assistance to growers and developing export stragies.