Ethnobotanical International Visions & Strategies

Technical support and resource services for medicinal plants

EIVS is a company providing management, technical support and resource services associated with the agriculture, scientific and commercial sectors of the medicinal plant industry.

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Problems with World Production of Medicinal Plants

Which countries are involved in the medicinal plant trade?

With their ancient heritage of traditional herbal-based medicines China and India are two of the world’s largest producers for medicinal plants. Other major producers of medicinal plants include the United States, Germany, Bulgaria, Poland, Japan, Madagascar and Sudan.

What are the Current Problems?

There are a number of problems associated with the medicinal plants industry. Some of them are global concerns and many of them are specific to countries and local cultures. Overall there are two main problems world-wide in the industry; adulteration and cleanliness.

Agricultural output can be reduce by two primary factors; natural or man-made. Examples of these factors are drought, storm damage, floods and political instability. As these unforeseeable problems are associated with all forms of agriculture they will not be addressed in this short essay, rather we will focus on the main problems specific to the medicinal plant industry.

Problems with medicinal plants grown in India, China and Africa

- Toxic residue (fecal matter, bacterial, etc.)
- Industrial residue (kerosene, diesel, heavy metals, etc.)
- Incorrect botanical species
- Irregular supply
- Low price for farmers / high prices for buyers

Each of these subjects represents problems on a cultural, sociological level. Usually what happens when Western organizations approach these kinds of situations it compartmentalizes the issues; for example, to only see the economic aspect and ignore the population drain on the area. As medicinal plants are a part of long ethological traditions in health care it is much more difficult to separate them from the culture than is often done with food agriculture. Most medicinal plants have some cultural value aside from their medicinal qualities.

When the ethological relationship to the plants is lost the respect of the plant as a healing agent is lost. Concretely this translates into abuse to the raw material. This directly results into economic loss. If the plant is toxic it can’t be sold, or if it is sold, it will be tested at some point and the customer (laboratory or company) will be very unhappy and stop buying crops from that supplier. Hence, one of the major problems in this industry is that the cultural, sociological link of the people to their land and traditions is breaking apart or already broken.

Part of EIVS’s management role is to help restore the traditional use / respect of medicinal plants on a cultural level. This needs to be done hand in hand with the development of renewable energy and agriculture in order to assure long term sustainability.

The harvester of wild species is being destroyed by numerous middlemen and brokers. These same wild harvesters are also part of the problem. For example, in South America, plants are usually harvested by untrained locals using only the common name of the plant. They are generally poor fishermen, farmers, peasants and squatters trying to feed their families. This means sometimes 3 or 4 different species of plants are harvested and sold as the same plant of commerce without proper identification or species verification. Thus, adulteration of plants is often done – not out of ignorance – but out of economic need.

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Overview of problems with world production of medicinal plants