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`No clear-cut policy to tap market for medicinal plants'

By Our Special Correspondent

CUDDALORE, MARCH 3. The global market for medicinal plants has been growing briskly at seven per cent annually and yet the share of India, home to traditional systems of medicine, is hardly 0.5 per cent.

China tops the list, holding a 40 per cent share in the $60-billion world trade in medicinal plants, according to C. Ramasamy, Vice-Chancellor, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. In 2002-03, it exported 1,21,000 tonnes of plants worth Rs. 22,000 crores while India earned Rs. 550 crores, exporting 36,000 tonnes.

Addressing a seminar on "Medicinal plants: Current status and future trends" held at Annamalai University on Wednesday, he said there was a global resurgence in the demand for plant-based drugs as they were free from side-effects.

There were ample opportunities to capture the domestic as well as export markets but India could not capitalise on them because well-defined policies were lacking.

The main problem was improper gradation of the medicinal plants. Hardly any herbal product was available in the standardised form, the minimum requirement for penetrating the Western market.

Diverse species

The Vice-Chancellor pointed out that India had over 2,000 documented species, of which 1,100 found use in various systems of medicine. Since there was no scientific system of collecting or regenerating the plants, several species had become either extinct or endangered.

Of the 161 highly traded species, 134 became threatened and 19 were critically endangered. If the trend was not arrested, many species would become extinct.

Dr. Ramasamy pointed out the initiative taken by Tamil Nadu, Kerala Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, which had set up a network of 54 medicinal plant conservation areas across different types of forests and altitude zones serving as in situ gene banks.

The Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights posed challenges in the use of medicinal plants and development of herbal industry in India, he said.

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