Among many measures announced last week to attain Aatma Nirbhar Bharat in the post-Covid world order, a particular step to boost herbal cultivation in India needs a closer look.
The MoS of the Ministry of Finance while briefing this particular step has said that the world has realized the importance of herbs in fighting the pandemic.
₹4,000 crore to promote Herbal Cultivation in India has been detailed, aiming to cover 10 lakh hectares under herbal cultivation in 2 years. A corridor of medicinal plants of 800 hectares shall be set up along the banks of Ganga.
Here is why you need not treat it as a mere allocation number but can expect that it may act as a real gamechanger in the lives of many farmers.
Why the Step May Add Significant Income to Many Farmers
It should be noted that the demand for herbs and herbal products all over the world has not started after the outbreak of Corona. With only China and India as the major providers of herbs to the world market, the demand has been growing over the years. The Corona situation has made the world realize the importance of nurturing one’s immune system. So, the trend can only strengthen further.
The Short Supply
In a Lok Sabha reply on January 2019, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry stated that
“The export of herbs and value-added extracts of medicinal herbs are gradually increasing over the years. India exported USD 330.18 Million worth of Herbs during 2017-18 with a growth rate of 14.22% over the previous year. Also, the export of value-added extracts of medicinal herbs/herbal products during 2017-18 stood at USD 456.12 Million recording a growth rate of 12.23% over the previous year.”
A report in The Hindu on December 2019, quoted Tanuja Manoj Nesari, CEO of National Medicinal Plants Board:
“Now the market size is ₹4.2 billon. It is estimated that it will be ₹14 billion by 2026. So, we have to be equipped for meeting the demand. Some of the raw materials are herbs and shrubs, which can be grown and harvested in a period of one year. But we have to improve cultivation of huge medicinal trees, which will take more than 10 years to get ready for harvesting.”
The Modi government a few years ago outlined the problems being faced in this area which is causing the short supply. It had acknowledged many areas that needed to be addressed.
Inadequate Agricultural practices, improper quality control procedure, lack of large-scale Organic cultivation, lack of processing and R&D, lack of standardization in products, processes and services, lack of regulatory framework in trade of medicinal plants were recognised as the area of concerns and some of them started getting addressed as well.
Centrally Sponsored Scheme of National AYUSH Mission implemented since 2015 has been helping farmers to plant the medicinal herbs by giving them access to nurseries and market infrastructure. Between 2016-18, 19 Ayurvedic herbs collection centres were approved.
Now with Corona crisis, the Union government has moved even more decisively by allocating money specifically for herbs cultivation.
There are success stories of farmers reported in the media of late.
This report in The Economic Times in September 2018 noted the trend, “A farmer growing ateesh herb, largely used in ayurvedic medicine, in the higher reaches of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh may easily get ₹2.5-3 lakh per acre. A lavender farmer may get ₹1.2-1.5 lakh returns per acre. These returns are why Bharat Bhushan of Khellani village in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir switched from maize to lavender for his 2-acre plot. By this November, he will add another 10 acres.”
Even if the world finds a cure to Corona, the fear of facing another pandemic in future will not go away. In all likelihood, people across the world will increasingly focus on building immunity. It is promising a sustained market for herbs and India moved rightly to focus on this segment.