Happy Republic Day 2015

Message from Dr Manoj Kumar Sarkar, IFS, Formerly Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Tamil Nadu Forest Department

| December 4, 2015 | 0 Comments

Dear Dr. Verma and All Friends,

Really it is a happy moment to share that the Workshop on a very relevant and timely subject i.e. “Biochemical and Molecular Analysis of Medicinal Plants of India as a source of life saving drugs” is taking shape now. As rightly pointed out by Dr. Sunil Kumar Verma, Principal Scientist, CCMB that India is a treasure trove of valuable Medicinal and Aromatic plants (MAP) and requires holistic management practices with specific strategic and policy framework in it.

India being one of the Mega Biodiversity countries of the world possesses rich plant diversity with an estimated 45,000 to 47,000 species (nearly 20 to22 % of global species) of which about 8,000 are well known for their medicinal uses. Estimates for the number of species used medicinally vary from 35,000 to 70,000 worldwide. The total number of MAPs in international trade has been estimated at around 2500 species, of which 960 species are commonly used by the contemporary trade and Ayurvedic industry in India (38%).

It is estimated that 70-80% people worldwide rely chiefly on traditional, largely herbal medicine to meet their primary health care needs. Because of their sustained and strategic utility to a large section of people, medicinal plants (MPs) have become an important national and global resource.

India is the second largest country in the world in export of medicinal plants after China and followed by Germany. The three leading exporting countries of MPs are China (ca. 240,000 tonnes per year over 1991-1997), India (ca. 80,000 tonnes) and Germany. Europe is the major trading centre for medicinal aromatic plants (MAPs) globally, with imports amounting to 440,000 tonnes.

The size of the global market for all herbal products is estimated at around US$62 billion, and this is poised to grow to US $ 5 trillion by the year 2050 with 85% of the total import of MPs is being done by the 12 developed countries.

With over 50,000 herbal formulations in the codified medical tradition and known to rural communities in India, and 671124 registered medical practitioners practicing traditional systems of medicine, India occupies a unique position in MP-related health culture, health security, economic and resource context in the world. The traditional knowledge based herbal sector in India has an industrial turnover of Rs. 4200 crores (Rs. 42 billion) per annum, with a projected annual growth rate of 20-30%.

Further, there are around 9000 registered and licensed manufacturing units. Of these, 95% are in the cottage and small-scale sector. China and India are two great producers of MPs having more than 40% of global biodiversity. There is thus enormous scope for India to emerge as a major player in global herbal product based medicines. Despite India’s advantageous position, its share of the US$ 62 billion global market is less than half a percent (0.3%).

The reasons for this situation are not far to seek. Only about 15 % of MPs are cultivated while more than 85 % of MPs used by Indian industry is collected from the wild/forests and other natural habitat mostly of Government owned land besides a marginal extent may be of private enterprises. Although trade in MPs in India has doubled since globalization, unsustainable and unscientific harvesting for commercial uses completely controlled by the informal sector with large traders operating from port towns and important cities is practised. The increases in trade resulting in indiscriminate harvesting and export have put a large number of India’s MPs under the threat of extinction. The resource custodian has no material stake in the trade, either in terms of revenue, or even in terms of surveillance of what is exported from the forest / other wild areas.

It is a matter of concern that when a large number of species of MPs which provide life saving drugs, suffer from various degrees of threats with genetic loss for ever, still there are no policy formulations / reforms in this sector of integrated phyto – resource management in the country. In the absence of such species specific laws or policies for plants, indiscriminately collected MPs from any unit area from wild / forests could neither be identified physically, by Biochemical and Molecular Analysis or by in forensic lab due to lack of skill, expertise and policies nor could be booked outside the forest boundary under any offence, as it is not legally supported by the court of law.

Considering the global trends at which these plant species are getting threatened, it is being anticipated that more than 1,000 species of Indian medicinal plants may undergo various degrees of threat within the next ten years while more than 75% of the Indian plant resources remain unexplored for their potential value in ethno medicinal and in other systems.

Addressing the needs, after recognising each of the various Stakeholders of medicinal plants in the country, requires a holistic approach for overall development of this sector. Unfortunately, there are no integrated national policies on herbal medicines, their source of origin, inventories and collection procedure; cultivation practices, monitoring of production; uses by the consumers and traditional practitioners; prices, sale pattern, marketing and their monitoring and finally total surveillance on MPs and herbal products being exported from this country unabated. The protection, conservation and overall management of threatened MPs need support of various kinds like inventory of resources their “Biochemical and Molecular Analysis and ascertaining their species specific threat status, effective regulations, institutional mechanism and strong legislative support, as well as the participation of all stakeholders with systematic short term and long term planning in place. However, this requires a grand strategic plan, which takes a holistic view of the entire situation to boost export and minimise import.

Therefore, what is urgently required is to facilitate the resource custodians, policy planners, drug regulators, health administrators, involvement of scientific institutions and professionals including traditional and modern practitioners to regulate the market and ensure consumer safety along with conservation and sustainable use of MPs with appropriate National Policy in place.

With this note, I whole heartedly wish a grand success to this workshop so that the findings/outcomes from this scientific platform help in better understanding and awareness creation on the protection, conservation and further augmentation of medicinal plants of India as a source of life saving drugs for my fellow countrymen and the mankind in general.

With warm regards to all.

Manoj Kumar Sarkar

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