The ayurvedic medicine industry – Current status and sustainability

INTRODUCTION: The Indian forestry sector is currently undergoing a significant transition. There is an increased focus on conservation and subsistence needs of forest dependent communities, reflected in the latest forest policy; and there is an ongoing debate regarding the role of the corporate private sector, individual farmers and communities.

The government is trying various means to ensure that forests are sustainably managed: most of these involve the use of policy and economic instruments. The concept of using marketbased instruments for promoting sustainable forest management is new to India. There are currently no such instruments in use in the country. However, a couple of initiatives have been developed in the recent past. One of these, called the ‘Bhopal-India Process’, aims to develop country level criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. This study develops further the initiative
taken under the ‘Bhopal-India Process’.

The broad objective of this study is to determine whether marketbased instruments might enable the ayurvedic industry to contribute to the sustainable management of medicinal plants. It aims at identifying the potential application of mechanisms and instruments to assure a sustainable supply of high-quality medicinal plants
of known origin to the industry; to ensure economic benefits for producers or collectors; and to encourage sustainable management of these plants and forests. The report also includes a synthesis of

Executive summary

Ayurveda is an ancient health system of India, thought to have originated in the Vedic times around 5000 years ago. Ayurvedic formulations use combinations of a selection of around 1200 species, about 500 of which are commercially traded. Ayurveda uses medicinal plants in various forms, some of which can be gathered only by destructive harvesting: in 30 per cent cases only the roots are used, in another 13 per cent only the bark and it is only in about 16 per cent that the whole plant is used. In other cases, medicines use the fruits, leaves, flowers, rhizome, seeds etc. It is commonly thought that medicinal plants are mainly herbs, but in fact about one-third are trees—this has implications for conservation and management of supplies to the industry. The majority of plants used in ayurveda are procured from the wild, though around 10 per cent are cultivated on private lands.

Ayurveda has a 70 per cent share in the formal medicine market in the country. There are around 6,000 licensed units and an equal number of unlicensed units manufacturing ayurvedic drugs. The origin of most of these companies can be traced back to a vaidya (apractising ayurvedic expert) who used to prepare some formulations
for dispensing. The gradual acceptance of these medicines led to the growth of such units. The presence of a large number of small, unorganised micro-manufacturing units and pharmacies makes it very difficult to estimate the overall turnover of the industry, but rough estimates put it at around Rs. 45 billion for the year 1998.

In general, the medicinal plants trade in India may be described as extremely complex, secretive, traditional, badly organised, highly under-estimated and unregulated. There is no macro level information available for assessing the nature and full extent of the trade; there are only ‘guesstimates’ based on local inventories and micro studies.

The ayurvedic medicine industry: Current status and sustainability xv plicated by the fact that there is no reliable correlation between trade names and botanical names, and names used for particular species may change along the supply chain. Conversely, the same trade name is at times used for several species, especially if they are used for similar purposes. Hence, for the purposes of this study, twelve of the most representative species were selected for detailed research into the conservation, collection, cultivation and trade of medicinal plants. These are Aloe vera, Chlorophytum borivillianum, Commiphora wightii, Embelia ribes, Emblica officinalis, Nardostachys grandiflora, Picrorrhiza kurroa, Rauwolfia serpentina, Saraca indica, Swertia chirata, Terminalia chebula and Withania

Medicinal plants are traded in 6 major, 21 medium and 37 minor markets spread across the country. The major centres, located at the heads of the routes taken by the medicinal plants, are big cities, including the four metros. Major exports take place from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Tuticorin. In terms of total volume of the 12 species traded in 1999–2000, Mumbai tops the list with about 3,300 tonnes, followed by Delhi with about 2,000 tonnes. The survey identified a number of factors that affect the final price. Volumes traded are directly proportional to the prices of the raw material, which in turn are proportional to the abundance/availability of the species. There is also a connection between the part used and prices, so that species that are destructively harvested seem to be more
expensive. High altitude species such as Nardostachys grandiflora, Picrorrhiza kurroa, Swertia chirata also are high value species. Price also increases with the distance of the source of raw material from
the market.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *