Globalisation and sustainable exports of Indian medicinal and aromatic plants: A protection study
India has a rich heritage of traditional systems of medicine viz. Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, Tibetan which are mostly based on botanical formulations. Although biologically, the region is extremely rich in medicinal plants, due to years of unwise use, the availability of raw materials in desired quality and quantity has become difficult to obtain raising serious doubt about the safety and efficacy of the medicines currently in use. There is unprecedented demand for natural medicines, green health products, pharmaceuticals, food supplements, cosmetics, and herbal pesticides to bring about this alarming loss of plant biodiversity. The sustainable production, conservation and use of medicinal plants are influenced by a number of factors, largely of socio-economic, technical, institutional and policy nature. Unsustainable harvesting of the raw materials from the wild by untrained and poor collectors mostly using primitive methods and lack of awareness about the real value of the resources are other two important factors leading to resource depletion. Rural people derive a substantial portion of their income and products for their basic health care needs from medicinal plants gathered from the nature. Medicinal plants-based drug industries and enterprises which run into thousands presently source more than 85% of their raw materials from the wild as they are cheap and believed to be of higher potency. There is a great need to reduce pressure on the in-situ sources by diversifying the production sites of these important plants. Domestication is one of the alternatives being attempted but given the large population of developing countries living below poverty line and growing need for economic and environmental security, it is unlikely that the current lands devoted to pure or mixed agriculture or forestry can be diverted to grow medicinal plants in a significant amount. Besides, domestication has to be carried out in similar habitats since some of the cultivated plants are known to give different chemical constituents than their natural counterparts due to environmental factors. As a large number of private sectors investment is possible in this sector, medicinal plants can be developed as a potential bridge between sustainable economic developments, safe & affordable health care and conservation of vital biodiversity. The paper suggests that a long-term and sustainable bio-partnerships between industry and rural communities should be formed which is in the interest of both the producers/collectors and drug industries as both stand to gain. The former will have regular, reliable and quality supply sources of raw materials and later will have assured market, increased income and fair price for their products. Necessary support and facilitation by the GOs, NGOs and academia in terms of technology transfer, Policy and legal support and extension may build and strengthen the partnership evolution process. There is an immediate need to initiate pilot case studies and model buy back arrangements between collectors/growers and industry representatives to start this process. This paper analyses the social, economic and institutional implications of such relationships based on various examples of evolving partnership concepts focusing on their efficiency, equity, and feasibility.
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