Dr Achyut Adhikari
International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences
Center of Academy of Sciences for developing World
Nepal has a huge diversity of plant species because of its enormous range of habitats. According to the report of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh UK, over 7000 species of vascular plants are found in Nepal, among them 300 are endemic (only found in Nepal). Nepal rises from subtropical lowland forests only 60 m above sea level to the alpine vegetation of its high mountains. More than 700 species of medicinal plants grow wildly and a vast number is yet to be explored. Microbial flora of the country has not been explored yet. This nature’s gift would be the good income source for the country, if we develop and commercialize it properly.
Herbal medicines are in great demand in the developing as well as developed countries for primary health care. These herbals possess wide biological activities, higher safety margins and lesser costs. Herbal medicines are also known for their effectiveness, lesser side effects better compatibility, local availability, and cultural acceptance than their synthetic counter parts. Herbal medicine is a growing business with exponential increase according to World Health Organization. About 80% population in the developing countries relies on herbal remedies. The total herbal drug market is estimated to be US $ 100 billion and expected to grow to US $ 5 trillion by 2050. The estimated annual growth rate of herbal medicines is expected to be 5-15%. Now the practice of using dietary supplements and herbal remedies is on rise even in the developed parts of the world such as USA and Europe. In Asia, China and India are the key users and the major exporters. China’s share in world herbal market is US $ 6 billion while India shares the market with US $ 1 billion. China and India have been doing lots of work in standardization of herbal products and their export of herbal products in international market is top ranked. Only raw plant material has been exported from Nepal which has very low price compared to standardized and processed plant material. India has totally banned to export raw plant material, and they only export standardized products. Therefore there is an immediate need to start standardization of herbal products so that the country benefit by exporting high value herbal products in international market.
What is herbal product standardization?
Despite number of advantages associated with botanicals, use of herbal products as therapeutics cannot be considered scientifically valid if the products are not authenticated and characterized in order to ensure reproducibility in their manufacturing. Herbal medicines are prepared from materials of plant origin which are prone to contamination, deterioration and variation in composition. Hence consistency of the herbal formulation which can deliver the promised pharmacological effects is the great challenge for any manufacturer. There are several factors that need to be addressed in order to produce the safe, effective and consistent herbal products. Authenticated raw material is the basic starting point for the development and manufacturing of a botanical product. Harvesting, storing, processing and formulating methods may effect on the quality and consistency of the herbal product. The classical approaches for the authentication of herbal raw material are taxonomic and microscopic analysis. The most modern approaches rely on the chromatographic and spectroscopic analysis. Chemical standardization and chemical fingerprinting are the methods of choice. Chemical standardization, in terms of the particular “marker compound” (which is believed to be responsible for the specific biological activity and physiological effect to an acceptable percentage) is the most popular practice of the herbal industry for the evaluation of the quality of the herbal product. Several methods have been developed for the standardization of herbal product but chemical fingerprinting by using chromatographic and spectroscopic tools is the most efficient, systematic and comprehensive way of the characterization of the herbal products and therefore internationally accepted.
How country will be benefited from herbal product standardization?
As mentioned earlier, Nepal has vast source of medicinal plants of every climate zone. This is the era of business, and without the proper use of science and technology international business is not possible. Our herbal products are not getting international market because we are not capable to show the international standard of our products. A lot of herbal products produced in Nepal are in high demand in international market such as ‘bark of daalchini’ is best medicine for type-2 diabetes and baath (arthritis). Tons of bark of ‘daalchini’ is going to India in very low price and India is selling it in international market in high price. Weather and geography of Nepal is very much suitable for farming of ‘daaalchini’, we can plant it in mountains and community forests. Herb ‘Jethimadhu’ is very good medicine of hepatitis as well as other liver and lung disease, its international demand is very high. World’s best anticancer drug ‘taxol’ is extracted from ‘Lothsalla’ which is found everywhere in high altitude mountains in Nepal. Another important product is ‘Aduwa’, essential oil of ‘Aduwa’ is famous for different medicine, spices and scents. Leafs of ‘Nundhike’ is very good for anti-ageing medicine and it can be developed as green tea and marketed worldwide, similarly essential oil of ‘khayar’ is also in high demand and we are totally wasting it. Fruit of ‘bel’ is also good for diabetes and anti-ageing. From very common herbs such as ‘asuro’ gurjigaano’ and ‘ketuke’, we can extract compounds which are used in heart disease. World famous and hot herbal product ‘Yarsagumba’ is also exporting in raw form. There are so many examples which are not possible describe here in all. To get international market for this herbal products standardization according to the international norms is very much necessary. If country starts to work on standardization of herbal products, it will be a major source of income and employment. And it can directly benefit poor farmers living in remote villages, who don’t have proper land for farming of rice and wheat, but they can do farming of herbal products in mountains. This is the renewable resources, which can use for years and years, other resources like mines and petroleum which is only can used for one time.
What should be the role of government?
This is unfortunate that government is abhorring of science and technology. There is no position in government job for person with Ph. D. degree. Other countries send students abroad for training by spending millions of rupees, but our country is not creating job for well trained scientists, this is a big loss for country and major cause of brain drain. Nepali scientists are working in top institutions all over the world; almost of them are interested to work for their home country. For example writer of this article is an international expert for standardization of herbal product and medicinal chemistry, countries such as Pakistan, Srilanka, Iran, Malaysia, Brazil and some African countries are taking advantage from him. It is unfortunate that despite the strong will writer of this article is not getting chance to serve his own country. Countries, such as Israel, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, India and Brazil are best examples of how well trained scientist has been contributing for the development of their nation. Almost all Asian countries were sending students to abroad to learn science and technology and they properly used their knowledge. There is an immediate need that government must ask proposal in development of science and technology from different Nepali scientist and provide them proper fund and facilities. There is no alternate way for development, our country will not be neither developed by foreign add nor by INGOS. We can develop our country only by using our resources and knowledge of our people.
Our country is full of ‘diamond’ but we haven’t recognized them as diamond and selling them as ‘coal’ or ‘stone’. We can easily develop ‘coal’ to diamond just we need strong determination and will. Proper farming of medicinal plants and standardization of them according to the international rule is exigent. This is one of many strategies for the sustainable development of the country. If we don’t invest in technical education and research, country will go back to back day by day.