Get Involved
About Us
Our Members
Demand and Supply of Medicinal Plants in India

Demand and Supply of Medicinal Plants in India by D.K. Ved and G.S. Goraya. Dehra Dun, India: Bishen Singh Mahendra Pal Singh and Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions; 2008. Hardcover; 216 pages. ISBN–13: 978-81-211-0628-3. $60.00.

Traditional Indian systems of medicine have depended on natural resources like medicinal plants, animal by-products, marine plants and animals, and minerals and metals to provide healthcare formulations for the Indian subcontinent. The Vedic scriptures indicate that all materials have a medicinal use; it is the determination of their use—singularly and in combination—after judicious processing that brings out their medicinal value. Estimates within the book indicate that more than 6,000 medicinal plants are traditionally used in India.

Though India’s traditional medicinal systems represent knowledge that has been diligently compiled in ancient pharmacopoeia, there are not many compilations comprehensively listing resources and their consumption trends. As this is a recognized gap in the knowledge-base of traditional medicinal plants, the National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB) in India commissioned the study described in this book through the Foundation for Revitilisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), a non-governmental organization dedicated to the conservation and revitalization of traditional health practices of India.

The study brings out some fundamental facts to help understand the medicinal plants trade sector in India for the year 2005–2006. The study reports that 960 medicinal plants are traded and that 178 of them have a trade volume exceeding 100 tons each per annum (of which 40 medicinal plants exceed a volume of 1,000 tons per annum). The total quantity of medicinal plants used by the domestic traditional medicinal industry in India is in excess of 177,000 metric tons (MT) and of commercial value INRs (Indian rupees) 627.90 crores (1 crore = 10 million). (The US equivalency would be $130.81 million, assuming a currency exchange value of US $1 = INRs 48.) International trade of medicinal plants from India is estimated in the book to be approximately 56,500 MT, at a value of INRs 354.80 crores (US $73.92 million).

Interestingly, the book also attempts to estimate the use of medicinal plants that are commonly used for healthcare purposes by rural households in India and pegs the consumption of such medicinal plants at 86,000 MT and a value of INRs 86 crores (US $17.92 million). Thus, it estimates the total trade of medicinal plants to be around 319,000 MT and of a value INRs 1,068.70 crores (US $222.65 million). The book makes an estimate of sorts, on the total value of the traditional formulations industry at INRs 8,800 crores (US $1.83 billion); this is a first data-supported estimate of the size and value of the industry in India.

In the model used to estimate an industry-wide usage pattern, the study has compiled data from 1988 of the reported 8,500 manufacturing units involved in manufacturing Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, and Homeopathic formulations. Estimates of high-volume medicinal plants have been achieved through interviews of medicinal plant traders in major trading centers in India. The export statistics have been compiled from data analysis of actual export shipments from ports in India compiled by the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics (DGCIS) on the basis of Indian Trade Centre’s HS Codes classification. The data for domestic and home consumption of medicinal plants by rural households are on an extrapolative model wherein 1,223 households were interviewed in 5 Indian states for an estimated consumption for 140 million population spread over 600,000 villages. The data collection and models used for statistical estimation are on a scientific footing, but all in all, the sample sizes used are far too meager in assessing the demand and supply of medicinal plants in India. Nevertheless, one cannot help but appreciate the data analysis and universal conclusions, which would hold true even with a more accurate model for data harvesting.

One must also appreciate the different facets that have been exhibited to better understand the data collected: use of cultivated, wild, and wasteland sources; information on exports, imports and re-exports; data from state forest departments; data from very secretive medicinal plant trade channels and regional markets; information on conservation concerns, adulteration threats, and mistaken identity for widely traded botanicals; in addition to estimating and giving a value basis for all the volume in trade. There are many firsts in this study, which are noteworthy. As a minimum template it touches all rational data essentials well.

With regards to botanical exports from India, 3 cultivated species need special mention, as they make up the bulk of exports in volume and value: psyllium (Plantago ovata, Plantaginaceae) seed and husk, a major bulk laxative ingredient; senna (Senna alexandrina, Fabaceae), a widely recognized stimulant laxative; and henna (Lawsonia inermis, Lythraceae), a natural hair coloring agent. Trade of these herbs indicates the global demand for Indian-produced botanicals that are widely recognized for their medicinal uses, but this is not indicative of demand for Indian botanicals due to their use in Indian traditional medicine. This suggests a large and untapped potential global market, as well as a long road ahead for Indian botanicals known for their traditional medicinal use. Exports of crude medicinal plants also show the added value that is lost to India in exports, something that deserves attention for an enhanced export yield to the country and benefit for communities involved. Herbal extracts have a significant and growing share in exports (31% for the year 2004–2005), but clear data on leading extracts are not recorded.

The importation of medicinal plants has also been covered in the book. Data indicate that over 40 species are imported to the volume of 37,483 MT at a value of INRs 173 crores (US $36.04 million). Gums and resins, along with pepper (Piper nigrum, Piperaceae) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra, Fabaceae), made up the bulk of the imports. A large amount of extracts are also imported along with CITES-listed species—kuth (Saussurea costus, Asteraceae) and rauvolfia roots (Rauvolfia serpentina, Apocynaceae; aka Indian snakeroot). This portion of the data collection is on sound export-import figures as recorded in notified ports in India on basis of ITC-HS Codes.

A section at the end of the book recommends some important action points that require the attention of stakeholders in the medicinal plant sector in India. Topics discussed include the stimulation of conservation and regeneration efforts; the value of moving towards developing links among growers, collectors, and the industry; and the need to create a national repository for medicinal plants. All of these points are urgent, obvious, and logical in their prescription to develop the medicinal plant sector. This report responsibly recommends a template for periodic data collection and developing analytical models for policy and action to remain focused on medicinal plants that matter most for industry. It very rightly flags the need for such documentation on a regular basis.

This book is extensively supported by tables and graphics, which give a crisp feel to the text and bolster the readers’ understanding. It would be extremely useful for industry members looking to understand the traditional medicinal sector in India, as well as conservationists, government and non-governmental organizations concerned with bio-diversity and communities, and research organizations prospecting for leads from traditional medicine. Limitations notwithstanding, one should not be without this copy and, thankfully, it is available with easy access on the website of the National Medicinal Plants Board:

—Ranjit PuranikCEO, Shree Dhootapapeshwar LimitedKhetwadi, Mumbai, India