Prospects of Medicinal Plants in Bangladesh
The planned and systematic cultivation of medicinal plants can make an important contribution to the economy of Bangladesh. They have a simple production system, low production cost and can be grown throughout the year
Helal Uddin Ahmed. Illustration: TBS
Helal Uddin Ahmed. Illustration: TBS
The encyclopedic work of Pedanius Dioscorides (1st century AD) – “De Materia Medica” – was the forerunner of all modern pharmacopoeias and an authoritative text on botanical medicine. Two of the 37 books written by Pliny the Elder (23-70 AD) dealt with medicinal botany.
Muslim physicians like Al-Razi and Ibne Sina (9th-12th centuries AD) revolutionized the history of medicine by incorporating new medicines of plant and mineral origin for general use.
The uses of medicinal plants in Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries were based on the doctrine of “signatures and the like” developed by the Swiss alchemist and physician Paracelsus (1490-1541 AD). Medicinal plants used by South American countries and Australian Aborigines centuries ago have greatly enriched the stock of medicinal plants around the world.
As a subtropical country, Bangladesh is quite rich in naturally available medicinal plants. Even in the early 1980s, the country’s herbal medicine companies (Ayurvedic and Unani) met 80 percent of their needs from natural forests within the country, and the remaining 20 percent were met through imports.
Since then, the situation has reversed. Currently, 80 percent of local demand is met by imports, while only 20 percent is made up of locally produced medicinal plants.
According to the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), there are 722 species of medicinal plants in Bangladesh. Against 4,000 in India, 700 plants are used in Bangladesh for medicinal purposes. Among them, 255 herbs are used by Ayurvedic and Unani medicine manufacturers.
The planned and systematic cultivation of medicinal plants can make an important contribution to the economy of Bangladesh. They have a simple production system, low production cost and can be grown throughout the year.
But, a majority of Bangladeshi farmers and value chain actors are still unaware of the profitability and sustainability of medicinal plants. In fact, commercial production of medicinal plants in Bangladesh only started in the 1990s, with the effort mainly concentrated in and around the Natore region.
Previously lacking any prescribed cultivation method, the Bangladesh Forest Research Institute (BFRI) has since initiated commercial production in hilly areas based on market demands by adopting good agricultural practices. If modern production methods and practices can be institutionalized alongside effective market linkages, then the golden past of herbal medicines can easily be revived in Bangladesh.
The government should play a proactive role in facilitating the rapid expansion of this lucrative sector through the adoption of institutional support policies for the production, processing, storage, grading, packaging, transport and sale of medicinal plants. .
The Agricultural Extension Department of the Ministry of Agriculture provides occasional advice to growers, but they need to broaden their efforts and focus on how specific producers and market segments can be served more productively and profitable. Relevant research institutes, non-governmental organizations and the private sector can also take initiatives to implement projects that will benefit all stakeholders.
Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired assistant secretary and former editor of the Bangladesh Quarterly. Email: [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.