Marketing of Medicinal Plants

The marketing of crude herbal drugs needs special attention due to their widespread use by traditional practitioners of the Greco-Arab system of medicine. Approximately 5,000 poor families residing in the remote hilly areas are engaged in the collection of medicinal plants during the summer months in the northern regions. Medicinal plants are transported to other markets by the seasonal traders, from where these commodities ultimately find their way to other parts of the country for consumption and export [15]. Medicinal plants are used not only by local practitioners as household remedy but also provide raw material for the pharmaceutical industries of the country. The business is in the hands of a few large trading houses in the areas that neither are organized nor work along scientific lines for the collection, drying, cleaning, washing, storage, and standardization of medicinal plants. The medicinal plants from the study areas are collected by local inhabitants, drug dealers, village grocers, and local practitioners through traditional knowledge and having no scientific background and approach (Fig. 2.7). They collect every possible available part of the plant. Most of the collectors are also ignorant of, or have insufficient knowledge about, the proper time of collection. Medicinal plants are either dried for further use or sold directly to the local grocers in fresh form, where the grocer does the drying him- or herself. Women generally do drying at home by spreading the plants on the floor, plastic sheets, cloth pieces, mats, and so forth, both in sunlight and in shade. The drying takes about 4.5 days. The quality of the drying process is generally very poor, as dust and foreign materials get mixed in with the plants. The fresh plant materials on the market are dried by being spread in sunlight for 4-6 days and then graded (pure, mixed), packed, and stored in bags ranging in volume from a few kilograms to mounds (1 mound = 40 Kg), depending upon the mass and availability of the drug. There is no storage process at the collector's level, because they try to sell them as soon as possible. Village grocers have to store small quantities for a short while until they are able to sell them to wholesalers of the local markets in Rawalpindi, Abbottabad, Murree, and Haripur. Like drying, the storage is not done in hygienic conditions, and the crude drug often gets infected with insects and fungi. This results in the deterioration

Fig. 2.7 A local herbal dealer

of the dried crude drugs and ultimately causes financial loss to the traders. In order to maintain quality, storage facilities need a definite improvement.

Rawalpindi, Abbottabad, Murree, and Haripur are the important markets for crude drugs. They are easily available at cheap prices. The wholesalers sell the drugs to bigger markets such as Lahore and Karachi, from where it is exported. Among the commercially exploited drugs Viola canescens, Olea ferruginea, Pistacia chinensis, Zanthoxylum armatum, Acacia modesta, Brassica campestris, Mallotus phillipensis, Berberis lycium and Bergenia ciliata fetch high price, and the rates of Viola canescens, Berberis lycium, Acacia modesta, Bergenia ciliata, are going up due to the shortage of their availability. There is a great difference between the purchase and sale prices. Grocers, shopkeepers, and wholesalers explain that collectors bring fresh drug, which, upon drying, becomes lighter in weight; they also include the labor cost they pay. They also claim adulteration of other plant parts and extra material by collectors, which they have to remove, and the drug packed becomes lighter in weight, which in turn increases its price. The people in the study areas have not yet tried to cultivate or extensively grow these medicinal plants and later on sell them in markets or send them to pharmaceutical industries. Presently, there is no well-organized system for the cultivation of medicinal plants on farms. The cultivation of medicinal plants is generally not practiced in comparison to agricultural crops in the study areas. This might be due to local people's unawareness regarding the medicinal uses, cultivation, seed collection, sowing, harvesting, collection, storage, and marketing value of medicinal plants. There are a lack of information regarding the marketing value of these medicinal plants and also a carelessness on the government's part. The other reason for not cultivating these medicinal plants is the lack of land. Most of the people in the study areas possess as little as 4 acres of land. Medicinal plants can provide better income to the local people than the traditional crops of the areas, if the market system for the medicinal plants is improved and cultivation of medicinal plants is done on scientific lines [13].

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