Growing plants for drugs, herbal medicine

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Plants and crops are being grown to provide cheap drugs and vaccines for the developing world, DANIEL ESSIET reports.


Big pharmaceutical and herbal companies are producing drugs and compounds from a wide range of agricultural resources such as golden seal, lemon grass, citrus fruits and peels, especially orange peels, berries, ginkgo biloba, parsley, pulses, tea, sea buckthorn and onions.

Scientists have discovered that there are health benefits in many plants for use in   drugs and compounds production. Because of medicinal properties, they have gained popularity as ingredients in the pharmaceutical industry.

One of those who have keyed into this booming opportunity is the Managing Director, Agro-Park, Mr Sola Olunowo. His farm is in Ogun State.

Agro Park Development Company Limited is primarily a farm management company. It specialises in organic production and processing of spices (turmeric, basil, lemon grass, and pepper as well as organic essential oils) to satisfy the demands of the local market with potential for the export market.

When Olunowo walks across his farmland, beaming at the greenery that surrounds him, he takes a deep breath inhaling the fresh air that has a hint of lemongrass fragrance.

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He grows lemongrass on several acres of land. To process, he has built a distillation plant on the farm. Lemongrass is harvested every two to three months, so it can be harvested four to six times in a year.

Internationally, companies import lemon grass to use in drugs and herbal products that  relieve anxiety and prevent infection.

The market for plants for drugs and herbal products has grown tremendously, emcompassing food and pharmaceutical companies in Argentina, Eastern Asia, Eastern Europe and Canada.

The   global pharmaceuticals market, according to a recent pharma market research report by The Business Research Company, is projected to  reach $1170 billion  next year.

Added to this, Botanicals & Acupuncture – Global Market Outlook (2019-2027) report  said  the global botanicals & acupuncture market accounted for $39.62 billion last year   and is expected to reach $190.66 billion by 2027.

Analysts said rising popularity of herbal medicines and beneficial strategies adopted for the manufacturing of botanical drugs are the major factors propelling market growth.

Reports said  roughly around 30 percent of the drugs in the world are plant-based

Although Nigeria has soil and climate advantageous to plant and process medicinal and  herbal products, the industry has not grown in recent years.  Olunowo said Nigeria  can export a lot of plants for drugs  and herbal medicine  and bring in  foreign exchange. His  early entry into the market has exposed  him to how   herbal  drugs  and medicine are produced.

Seeing his success,many other farmers are coming forward to take up the cultivation of the lemongrass farming.

Olunowo  has taken the cultivation of medicinal plants  very seriously  with  market for nutraceuticals.

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He  has done  tremendously in terms of planting and processing techniques to meet export requirements.

He  has appealed to the government  to work with farmers, to revive the industry.

The President, Association of Micro Entrepreneurs of Nigeria (AMEN), Prince Saviour Iche,  believes there is a wide scope of entrepreneurial development in the medicinal and aromatic plants.

He explained that there is a lot of scope in marketing for medicinal plants, considering their potential in traditional and alternative medicine and therapy.

Iche leads a group of small business owners who produce therapeutic products using plants and herbs  with various  health benefits.

He said the potential for many  plants and crops for health drugs  are very high.He said  plants  have become the fastest-growing source of new medicines for the pharmaceutical industry following research findings that they  have healing properties.

According to him, pharmaceutical industries are  finding new leads all the time from botanical plants and the enthusiasm of  Nigerians consuming  herbal remedies.

Iche said drugs companies were becoming increasingly interested in remedies from natural sources and this has created a market for people to grow plants that can be used to develop drugs.

In May this year,the Federal Government directed the  National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC)  to carry out necessary procedures for the assessment of a plant-based cough mixture as a possible treatment for COVID-19.The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Mashi Abdullahi, issued the directive in a memo with REF no. TCAM/077/I/65 addressed to the director-general of NAFDAC, Mojisola Adeyeye.

The memo, dated April 28, 2020, was titled ‘Formulation of a Phyto-Medicine-Based Cough Mixture/Syrup for the Management of COVID-19 Patients by Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine Department of the Ministry’.The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said the local medicines in Nigeria had not been tested and could be poisonous.

He said all herbal medicines must go through the research cycle to ensure they are not toxic.

He noted that “no COVID-19 patients will be released to herbal practitioners to test the efficacy of their drugs, such drugs will first be tested on animals before it can be certified.”

Globally, agrochemical industry behemoths, such as  Syngenta, have  expanded their plant-derived pharmaceutical businesses.

Another giant, Dow  Chemical  use maize for the large-scale production of biopharmaceuticals, which are expressed in the seeds. However, a number of food manufacturer organisations have begun to raise concerns about the possible contamination of the food chain by biopharmaceutical-producing maize.