Book review: Commercial cultivation of medicinal plants

It is an obvious business risk for a farmer to give up growing conventional crops that have assured returns and start growing medicinal plants. But the book under review shows precisely how to reduce such risk; indeed, such risk is entirely justified. Written in simple Hindi, the book would have no difficulty in communicating its confident message to a venturesome farmer: with the proper information back-up, cultivating medicinal plants is not only possible but immensely profitable as well. Indeed, the authors hope that the benefits shown by the book entice not only the village farmer but also the educated city people

 
By Vibha Varshney
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- Aushadiya Padapo Ka Vyavasayic Krishikaran (Commercial Cultivation Of Medicinal Plants) written by Gurupal Singh Jarayal & Mayaram Uniyal Published by Indian Society of Agri-business Professionals New Delhi October 2003 Rs 450

It is an obvious business risk for a farmer to give up growing conventional crops that have assured returns and start growing medicinal plants. But the book under review shows precisely how to reduce such risk; indeed, such risk is entirely justified. Written in simple Hindi, the book would have no difficulty in communicating its confident message to a venturesome farmer: with the proper information back-up, cultivating medicinal plants is not only possible but immensely profitable as well. Indeed, the authors hope that the benefits shown by the book entice not only the village farmer but also the educated city people

A farmer cultivating medicinal plants on the basis of half-baked information is not likely to be successful, so the book starts by listing pragmatic bits of information that are a prerequisite for anyone entering the field: information on the plant; the kind of area it grows in; and procuring the right seeds. Though this information is available from consultancies, it comes at a high price. More often than not, the farmer approaches the consultants only after making up her/his mind to plant this or that herb and then begins the actual work of planting merely to justify the expenditure. In this way, the farmer does not get a chance to check different options that exist and depends on just the consultant's advice.
Step by step The authors take the reader/farmer through the process of cultivating medicinal plants step-by-step. A farmer, for instance, must register the crop and land used to grow it in with the revenue department; this helps to prove that the crop is actually cultivated and not taken from the wild. The book strongly enforces the fact farmers need to be careful of the different buyback schemes available in the market. These have played a major role in destroying hopes of profits. To ensure that better rates can be demanded and the crop is quite like its authentic wild relative, the authors suggest organic farming is best. To help the farmer, the book describes different ways in which s/he can make manure.

The bulk of the book consists of cultivation information for 40 medicinal plants. This is truly valuable, for the plants enumerated are those prohibited for export from the country. The government of India is currently providing incentives to cultivate these plants so as to ensure availability; the plants can also be exported if a certificate of cultivation is available. These include kutki (Picrorhiza kurroa), jatamansi (Nardostachys grandiflora) and kuth (Saussurea costus). Along with these, information is also available on common ones such as tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), pudina (Mentha arvensis) and gwarpatha (Aloe barbedensis) Farming techniques for trees such as guggul, ashok, anwla are also mentioned.

For each plant, details are given on its medicinal use/s, suitable areas for cultivation, cultivation technique, collection of the raw material and basic processing techniques. The book also provides a rough idea on the investment and profits. After all, who would not be lured by a chance to make a profit of Rs 77,500 per acre in 30 months by growing sarpgandha (Rauwolfia serpentina), or Rs 50,000 per acre per year by harvesting the roots of mulethi (Glycyrrhiza glabra)? Standard information on the Sanskrit names, Latin names and local names of each of the medicinal plants is also enumerated.

The book finishes off with profiles of four farmers currently cultivating medicinal plants. It also highlights the different financial schemes of the National Medicinal Plants Board, the National Horticultural Board and the Khadi and Village Industries Board. Along with this, valuable information on addresses of government bodies in different states, and those of suppliers of the seeds and the planting material, are also given.

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