Bottle Necks in Cultivation of Medicinal Plants for Ayurveda

Bottle Necks in Cultivation of Medicinal Plants for Ayurveda

AYURVEDA is an ancient science (or art ??) of healing with herbs, plants or plant derived ingredients. Many of these plants have been over-harvested from the forests, resulting in depletion. Some have now been listed on the CITES list like Aconite or Angelica. In order to save the forests from depletion of such valuable resource(s), many of these plants are now commercially cultivated. However, the supply chain is very fluid, with many lacunae and loop-holes. There are tiers of middlemen, inflating the cost. GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) and PHM (Post Harvest Management) is practically non-existent.

The traditional system of Herb Collection is as follows

  1. The supply chain involves contract collection (wild harvesting), consolidation, packing and transportation to MANDIS (the marketplace). Most foot-hill towns have a jari-booti (Crude Drug) Mandi (Marketplace), because our Himalayas are inherently a rich source. Thus, we have the Majith Mandi in Amritsar, a smaller mandi in Tanakpur and likewise, many such mandis on the fringe towns of all forest areas. The Delhi Mandi is called Khari-Bauli.
  2. The small collectors stuff the collected herbs or herbal produce in gunny bags or plastic sacks and send them to a forest consolidation center. This interface involves, at the grass-root, collectors, who are primarily, illiterate daily rated or contract workers. They are paid a paltry sum. The aggregators are TASK ORIENTED, for collection. Their only concern is quantum. This results in UNSCIENTIFIC HARVESTING, including harvesting of immature/sub-standard material. Over-Harvesting is a natural fall-out of GREED. In this system, G.A.P is missing.
  3. These bags, so collected and aggregated are then transported to the Mandi, where they are sold. Being a forest produce, RAMANNA (permission to harvest and transport) is required, thus every shipment, is regulated by the forest regime. As a consequence of long hours of transportation, the herb material is prone to damage due to heat, improper carriage, over-stuffing or horde of reasons. Herbs require very specific G.M.P and P.H.M practices.
  4. The Ayurveda Practitioners or Manufacturers buy from the Mandi.

In the above system, the concept of STANDARDIZATION and QUALITY CONTROL is primarily missing. Actual drug value of any herb is reflected by H.P.L.C (Non volatile Extracts) or G.L.C (volatile oils).

The above system DOES NOT ACCOUNT for variation IN DRUG VALUE due to

  1. Bio-Diversity, within the species– certain genotypes are known to have higher content.
  2. Terroir Effect-
  3. Lack of proper G.M.P and G.A.P
  4. Poor Transportation Methods- Collection sites are far flung at times, deep into the forest. Thus transportation is done on lorries or tractors/trailers, taking many hours to reach the mandi.
  5. Lack of P.H.M- sometimes, even basic things like grading etc. is not done..

In an attempt to standardize the supply chain, Govt of India has undertaken to constitute a separate Ministry (AYUSH), entrusting N.M.P.B for promotion / cultivation / utilization / processing of MEDICINAL PLANTS. Most AROMATIC PLANTS have fallen under the AMBIT of N.H.B. As a consequence, there has been a focus on PHARMACOGNOSY and PHYTO-PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH as a MANDATE to promote AYURVEDA.

As a farmer, in the allied field of agriculture of aromatic crops for over 25 years, I have the following observations to share. For any M.A.P enterprise to sustain, it is important to

  1. First and Foremost, is COLLECTION OF MARKET INTELLIGENCE relating to CROP( S ) being considered. This would mean, the quality standards, market size, sources and competition, value addition( s ) required, price information etc. etc. The best principle is to only consider NATIVE CROPS, because NATIVITY ensures HIGHER DRUG VALUE.
  2. Next is setting up a test/pilot case study. This is the MOST CRUCIAL STEP. Elite PLANTING MATERIAL should be collected, which has been duly tested for quality. Starting from a small nursery, one could scale up to a bigger nursery
  3. Buyers should be judiciously selected and vetted. They should be manufacturers and NOT MIDDLEMEN.
  4. Never have all your eggs in one basket. Always have multiple sales channels (Multiple Buyers)
  5. A small plot should first be planted, as a TEST/TRIAL, to study the economics. One needs to be in constant communication with the buyer, for feedback on quality. Samples (ALL STAGES OF VALUE ADDITION CHAIN or VERTICAL INTEGRATION should be sent to the BUYER. His feedback or suggestions should be implemented.
  6. Once the full process is standardized, one should consider to scale up.
  7. Critical Mass-It is important to have a critical mass or ample acreage for you to have the power of negotiation. The principle of Economy of scale comes into play.
  8. Vertical Integration and Value Addition Initiatives-should be considered IN-HOUSE to develop a NICHE PRODUCT for a NICHE MARKET. This will require tremendous effort and research. One must remember, niche has its own benefits.
  9. Acquirement of Skill-Sets, setting up of requisite Infrastructure is a time consuming, capital intensive activity. One should tread carefully and slowly. One step at a time.
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