Prospects of medicinal herbs and plants

It is significant that in a country of over 160 million people, only about 20 per cent of this number in Bangladesh are in the habit of visiting allopathic doctors for treatment. A major part of the rest in the population opt for herbal treatment of which the unanniand ayurvedic systems are the favourite. Of course the homeopathic treatment is also a favourite in Bangladesh and this system also depends a great deal on medicines derived from medicinal plants and herbs.
The Chinese herbal system of treatment is also fast gaining ground among some sections of people. Cost is a factor why so many people in the country are habituated to these alternative systems. Herbal treatment in some cases are considered to be relatively cheaper. But the popularity also stems from the effectiveness of the treatment in most cases and their relative safety. Herbal medicines are known to create least or no side effects on patients.
Contrary to popular belief that the unani any ayurvedic systems have not been scientifically developed such as testing out the properties of their medicines for side effects, companies like Hamdard are producing and marketing products well tested for side effects or other unwanted consequences. The drugs produced by Hamdard– which is a giant among herbal medicine producers– are no less safe than mainstream producer of conventional allopathic medicines . However, other companies in the ayurvedicsphere are probably not doing such a good job as Hamdard and they should be in line with this main producer of herbal medicines. Furthermore, quacks also produce and practice herbal treatment without regulation in Bangladesh. This is a matter of serious concern and needs to be regulated. Besides, the ones who wish to study the herbal systems of medicines should be allowed to do so only in properly organised campuses for the purpose. The government should extend funds and other forms of support to them for research and for maintaining and developing a streamlined and scientific set-up to study these forms of medicines as is done under the mainstream allopathic one.
The growing of medicinal plants and herbs can be also lucrative business. Bangladesh presently spends about Taka 500 million for the import of herbs or herbal extracts to make medicines from the same. This is regrettable as the entire amount can be saved if planting of medicinal plants and herbs are popularised here. Not only that, there are immense prospects of exporting medicinal plants, herbs and herbal extracts from Bangladesh provided the planting of the medicinal plants and herbs, processing them, preserving them and standardising them for export, can all be developed in a proper manner.
One study found out that there is very good opportunity for planting medicinal plants and herbs in the fallow lands of the tea estates, on hill sides at Chittagong and Sylhet. Even farmers can profitably do such planting in small strips of lands in their homesteads in the rural areas everywhere in the country. The cultivation of such medicinal herbs and plants can be a source of employment and income at the grass roots level while also earning substantial foreign currencies for the country.
Presently, the annual average size of the export market for herbal products as raw materials is some $ 62 billion. The market size is projected to expand to some 5 trillion dollars by 2050. Thus, there should be every incentive for businesses in Bangladesh to take up the growing of medicinal plants and herbs enthusiastically.