The Kerala State is a rich repository of plant diversity due to its peculiar phytogeography. The foothills of the Western Ghats, which run along Kerala's eastern border, are rich in rare and valuable medicinal plants. This forest contains approximately 65 percent of the plants required for Ayurvedic medicines and nearly 80 percent of the plants used in Siddha remedies. In addition to the tropical forests, many herbals can be found in backwater areas, marshes, swamps, and coastal regions of Kerala.
Recent analysis shows that of the 5100 flowering plants estimated in Kerala, more than 1000 possess medicinal values. In that 450 plant species native to or naturalised in Kerala are extensively used in Indian systems of medicines. Rural and tribal communities are using over 2,000 species of lesser-known wild plants for a range of medical purposes, many of which are not fully documented.
Among the ancient civilizations, India is known for its rich collection of medicinal plants. Ayurveda has documented around 8,000 herbal medicines. Ayurvedic medicine has been used by practitioners and the general public for centuries, and it has proven to be effective in many ailments for which modern medicine can sometimes find no permanent cure.
In addition to Ayurveda, medicinal plants are used in many traditional systems and in modern phytochemical formulations. Many drugs for the treatment of cancer, diabetes and heart disease are currently made from molecules derived from medicinal plants.
Unlike synthetics, which are considered dangerous to humans and the environment, herbal products now represent safety. Herbs are staging a comeback, and herbal ‘renaissance’ is happening all over the globe.
The World Health Organization estimates that the trade in herbal medicines will reach $ 5 trillion (Rs. 245 trillion) by 2050. The government of India has identified medicinal and aromatic plants as one of the sectors that can make India a global leader in the 21st century. About 1178 species of medicinal plants are estimated to be in trade, of which 242 species have annual consumption levels above 100 metric tons/year, registering a nine-fold increase during the last decade. Aside from pharmaceuticals, India owns 60% of the 13,500-tonne worldwide spice oleoresins industry. Even though we have exported many herbals, India had been importing 10%-15 % of the raw materials such as asafoetida, manjishta, and gulgul from countries such as Afghanistan.
Our state can provide a wide range of consumer products with national and international demand owing to our treasure trove of 2000 medicinal and aromatic plants.. In addition to the national and international market, it is estimated that there are about 800 registered Ayurvedic medicine manufacturing units in the state which use herbs worth 75-80 core as raw material. The nutraceutical, cosmetic and oleoresin industries in Kerala also buy herbal raw materials worth over Rs 75 crore. The trade demand for these crops is increasing with the increased interest in western consumers towards eastern medicinal systems.
The genetic diversity of medicinal plants in the world is getting endangered at an alarming rate because of ruinous harvesting practices and over-harvesting for the production of medicines, with little or no regard to the future. Presently, about 90% of medicinal plant species are of natural origin (in that 69% of the material is collected through destructive harvesting), with the remaining 10% produced by farmers. In situ conservation of these resources alone cannot meet the ever-increasing demand of pharmaceutical and other herbal-based industries. If timely steps are not taken for their conservation, cultivation, and mass propagation, they may be lost from the natural vegetation forever. Consequently, cultivation of these plants is urgently needed to ensure their availability both to industry and individuals associated with the traditional system of medicine.
Promote Kerala as an international source and market for high quality organically grown medicinal plants, for this Encourage cultivation of medicinal plants and its sustainable management across the state and to reduce pressure on the collection from wild habitat in forests
The global clamour for more herbal ingredients creates possibilities for the local cultivation of medicinal plants. Here is a significant gap between supply and demand for medicinal plants. There is a huge scope for export of raw materials. But quality, traceability, and organic certification of materials are very important.
Organic farming: Farmers have to be trained in all aspects of organic farming including obtaining certification from associations that do the monitoring, starting from cultivation to final harvesting. As chemicals cannot be used as fertilizers and pest control agents, the cultivation is labour intensive requiring labour for weeding and other farming activities.
The cultivation of medicinal plants is almost unorganized. Proper supply chain management and the formation of farmers’ organizations will improve production. The State Medicinal Plants Board (SMPB) is exploring many ways to augment their cultivation. Read mission vision
Traditional agriculture in Kerala is currently in dire straits due to rising agricultural costs, climate change, and price uncertainty. These factors forced farmers to switch to other crops with better yield potential than conventional crops. In this context, the risk of pest infestation, disease, and price changes associated with medicinal crop cultivation is low. This importance is further strengthened by the fact that these crops can be grown on degraded and marginal soils or as intercrops in horticultural crops such as coconut and acacia. The main advantages of Medicinal plant farming are