A Herbal Dose that brings Economic Well Being
Deep in the verdant hills of Kerala is a green treasure trove of herbs. Its riches have helped the state to establish itself at the forefront of the herbal industry in the country. Over the past decades, a forward thinking government policy as well as local initiative have come together to create a herbal industry that has helped bring about a healthy dose of revenue to Kerala’s exchequer.
Kerala’s Herbal Power: Kerala’s landscape and climate provide the perfect setting for herbs to flourish. The temperatures are moderate and hover between 24 and 32 degree Celsius all through the year. Two sessions of monsoon rains – both summer and winter – keeps the soil fertile and moist. The humid air helps the growth of herbs. According to estimates, Kerala is home to 900 different medicinal plants and herbs. The state thus has ample raw materials to feed its growing herbal industry. Reports published indicate that the ayurvedic industry in Kerala uses at least Rs 75-80 crore worth of medicinal plants and herbs as raw materials annually.
The second aspect that has helped the herbal industry to thrive is that the state has always given prominence to the age old tradition of Ayurveda. This 5000-year old, herb-based science was popular all over India, before other medical sciences began to get preference. Perhaps because of its geographical isolation, Kerala continued with its Ayurvedic traditions. Over the past two to three decades, the world rediscovered the power of herbs and Ayurveda, giving Kerala a competitive edge over other Indian states. Today, the global trade in herbs is estimated to be worth $800 billion per year and India ranks second (after China) in the export of herbal medicines. The Kerala Ayurveda industry has been actively tapping its vast reservoir of ancient knowledge in order to gain more leverage in tapping the global herbal market. Yet another positive sign is the growing awareness about maintaining strict quality standards.
The Manufacturing Base and its Changing Character: A report authored by M S Harilal, Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum and published in the April 2009 issue of the Economic and Political Weekly provides a comprehensive account of how Kerala built its manufacturing base vis-a-vis its herbal industry. As per the study, there are three tiers of manufacturing – household levels which cater to small rural populations, large units that manufacture ayurvedic drugs and firms which concentrate on nutraceuticals and cosmetics.
Until recently, the focus was on producing ayurvedic drugs, but today the situation is slowly changing with more and more firms realising the potential of nutraceuticals and cosmetics. Some of the big industry names are Arya Vaidya Sala (AVS), Kerala Ayurveda, Ousadhi, Nagarjuna Herbal Concentrates, Vidya Ratnam, Santhigiri, SD Pharmacy, and Pankajakasturi. There are several other brands which are surging ahead too.
The Future Potential: Kerala’s herbal industry may be flourishing, but there is still room for growth. Companies like AVS, Pankajakasturi and Nagarjuna have been exporting to world markets. Better standardisation and regulation can help Kerala earn more foreign exchange earnings. Taking advantage of the wealth of natural resources and sensing the potential of the biotech industry, Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation has planned a Life Sciences Park in Trivandrum. This knowledge hub will make extensive use of Kerala’s herbal resources to develop new products, new employment opportunities and new revenue sources. Medical tourism is yet another area which can be further developed using the state’s rich herbal base.