India losing to China in herbal medicine market

Sunday, 28 March 2004, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: India, despite being seen as a "hub" of traditional medicines, is losing out to China in the race to grab a share of the growing global market for herbal products.

The global demand for herbal products is growing at a rapid pace. A World Health Organisation (WHO) study has projected the demand to reach $5 trillion by 2050 from the present $60 billion. Of the estimated 400 families of flowering medicinal plants in the world, India is home to at least 315 species, according to WHO.

Despite this, India has a minuscule share in the $60 billion global trade dominated by China with $45 billion.

"India's share is just $551 million despite being the hub of traditional medicines like ayurveda," pointed out A. F Lievaart, director of Holland-based Indian Herbs Company.

Here to attend the two-day International Conference on Medicinal Plants and Products organised by global NGO Oxfam GB, Lievaart said the reason for China's success lies in its using acupuncture therapy for the last 40 years as a vehicle to promote herbal products in Europe with its tradition of herbal medicines.

On the other hand, barring a few popular over-the-counter (OTC) products like chyavanprash for constitution or time-tested digestive preparations, tooth powders, cough and cold remedies, very few Indian herbal products have made successful inroads overseas.

"In the domestic market too, despite the 10-12 percent growth in traditional medicines, the growth is largely in the OTC segment but not in the therapeutic or curative segment," said Ajay Grover, financial advisor of Baidyanath, one of the oldest players in the traditional medicines sector.

For the perception of traditional Indian medicines whether ayurveda, unani, herbal or siddha to change and be accepted as therapeutic medicines "we need to do more research and bring out more OTC medicines that can be recommended through conventional channels," Grover told IANS.

Baidyanath is one of the few well-known Indian majors that have been able to make a successful foray in the overseas market with a range of healthcare products.

While there is no entry barrier overseas, Indian herbal and ayurvedic products can be marketed only as food supplements as there is no authentic validation of their efficacy as medicines, say experts.

According to Lievaart, who imports herbal products and raw material from India, yoga could be the key to popularise ayurveda and other herbal products among the new health conscious generation.

"Though a large number of Europeans are visiting India for ayurveda treatment, if the service is not good it rebounds," he said urging a united promotion of traditional Indian medical systems and medicines to sell them as a way of life.

"Overseas, the main problem with Indian products is of questionable quality as there is not enough information available," said Madhav Karki, regional programme coordinator of Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Among other problems is that of poor packaging and inadequate labelling.

"In the name of herbal medicines anything sells without enough documentation," said Karki, who is overseeing IRDC funded programmes with communities in India to promote conservation and cultivation of herbs.

The thrust of IDRC programme is to "ensure conservation through benefit sharing" with communities.

Karki pointed to the fact that so far in India only 12 herb-based drugs have been notified.

"For marketing and acceptability whether in the domestic market or overseas, we need standardisation of the formula for preparations and certification.

Through labelling and a system of traceability, it should be possible for an overseas buyer to track the farmer from whom the raw material has been sourced," he said.

The hiccups in marketing overseas has led to a disproportionate 70 percent of Indian herbal products being exported as raw material with the remaining 30 percent being sold as health supplements or beauty products like herbal hair oils and face creams.

"The problem lies in getting approval of the food and drug authorities. In each country there are different protocols for registration. As no accepted clinical trials of traditional Indian medicines have been done and there are no validated documents, entry into the US and the EU is difficult," said Grover.

Baidyanath is one of the industry representatives in the National Medicinal Plants Board set up by the government to study, document and promote traditional Indian medicines.

Source: IANS
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