Until recently, herbal medicine in Vietnam relied on finding wild medicinal herbs and importing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbs from China. The latter added more expense for average Vietnamese, and quality control for Chinese imports has been lacking. Overharvesting wild herbs and medicinal trees has proven to be unsustainable, especially after Agent Orange was introduced to Vietnam decades ago.
The grassroots herbal cultivation boom in Vietnam
Apparently, it all started with an impoverished villager who had been a teacher in his village for several years. Now 64, Briu Po was the local high school biology teacher, but he was living in poverty despite his education and position.
Upon hearing that this herb was on the verge of extinction, Po urged his wife to start planting their own. Po recalls, "In 2007, we tried growing 900 plants. Our villagers thought we were insane as they believed that the plant belonged to God, and hence, could not be planted by humans. They thought that all of our plants would die."
After the first harvest, Po and his wife netted $2,500 US, more than they've ever had at any one time, for their Morinda officinalis roots sold to local herbal pharmaceutical companies. Then the other villagers started their own planting. They were impressed enough to realize that God would let them cultivate the plants and followed Po's example.
The whole village soon had 6,000 Morinda officinalis plants with more from Po, who expected to get even six times more remuneration this time around, according to the report from the English edition of VietNamNet Bridge.
Dr. Mai Van Thanh returned to Vietnam from China to invest in the burgeoning village grassroots herbal farming scene. He intends to ensure that farmers don't use any artificial fertilizers or other chemicals used in modern conventional farming to maintain the purity required for medicinal herbs.
The prime minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung, has approved an overall plan to develop traditional medicinal materials until 2020 with extensions envisioned through 2030. Hospitals and medical practitioners are pleased with these plans that will enable them to use locally produced clean herbs for natural medicines.
An anecdote that typifies the growing resurgence of herbal medicine demands in Vietnam comes from 50-year-old Hoang Thi Yen. She proudly asserted that she is still alive and healthy thanks to the herbal remedy known as Trinh nu hoang cung (Crinum latifolium).
It reversed her uterus tumor's growth, which became much smaller from drinking the herbal solution daily. She shied away from surgery but realized that she could drink the Crinum latifolium daily without concerns of side effects.
Similar opportunities elsewhere
On the other side of the planet in the African nation of Kenya, Jonathan Muriuki, lead author of a study in that nation sponsored by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and published in the journal Forests, Trees and Livelihoods commented on how overharvesting wild herbs leads to depletion of supply as demand grows.
Although Kenyans have traditionally relied on using herbal and medicinal tree remedies in rural areas, more urban dwellers throughout Africa and elsewhere are increasing demands for herbal medicines that lack the proper infrastructure to be provided to such markets.
Jonathan sees this as an opportunity for Kenyans to rise from poverty, as infrastructure would provide many new openings within the herbal arena. To improve the market in traditional medicines, the study recommends linking traders to farmers in the form of grower groups, especially women, which could initially focus on the most traded species of the trees and herbs.
"Farmers stated they would sell medicinal products if they had access to market opportunities," said Muriuki. "Access to markets for other tree products has led to increased cultivation of tree species providing these, so it would be fair to assume the same could be applied for medicinal trees."
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