Turning Herbal Medicine into Wealth

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Maurice Iwu

Nigerian have been urged to devise ways of turning the huge herbal medicine potential in the country into money spinning ventures

By Fidelia Salami  |  Dec. 15, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT  |

HERBAL medicine has been in Nigeria for a long time. But not many people know or have devised effective ways to turn the practice into a money spinning venture as it is done in some Asian and Western countries which have flooded the country with herbal remedies for aliments through the Tianshi and Forever Living products which many Nigerians now patronise. Suffice it to say that this is at the detriment of the locally produced herbal medicine. But this fact was made obvious at that at the HerbFest 2014 in Lagos, in November which featured an international symposium on “Herb, Health Foods and natural Products: Shifting the Boundaries of Health Care”.

Iwu Maurice, professor of Pharmacognosy, and chairman, Bio-Resources Development Group, brought the gap in herbal medicine to the fore when he urged enterprising Nigerians to explore the huge potential inherent in herbal medicine to grow the economy and to turn the knowledge of herbal medicine into wealth. Iwu, who gave the keynote address at HerbFest along with other speakers such as Abdul Bulama, minister of science and technology, and Gloria Elemo, director general Federal Institute of Industrial Research, FIIRO, Oshodi, and T. O. Omon Oleabhiele, president, National Association of Nigerian Medicine Practitioners, NANTMP, emphasised the need for entrepreneurs to invest in herbal medicine because of its huge potentials.

“We have products that are already in the market, and in established pharmaceutical companies, although the numbers are quite limited. Many products that have gone through the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC, certification are in the market. We want a holistic approach in developing natural products as food, as medicine, and as industrial products,” Iwu, a former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC said, adding that herbal medicine is not for quarks.

“Herbal medicine is a $100 billion (N16.8 trillion) industry and our hope is to stimulate the interest both of industrialists and the general public to the enormous potential this sector holds. It is something worth exploring that could add positively to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Products, GDP, and that could be some sort of income for the whole country,” he said.

The indigenous herbal medicine, according to him, could be boosted as long as Nigerians had confidence that their home-grown products could be used as medicine, adding that extensive research had been done by scientists in the country to establish the immuno-potential properties of garcinia kola also known as bitter cola. Bitter kola is considered an immune booster in spite of the reaction that greeted this discovery.

“We got an immunity enhancing compound from it. The work on garcina kola, as we (scientist) call it was done and published 15 years ago, even before the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria. This claim should be put to test by capable individuals and not subjected to a lazy intellectual mindset,” he said.

Gloria Elemo DG, Federal Institute of Industrial Research
Gloria Elemo DG, Federal Institute of Industrial Research

Speaking to Realnews on why it took so long to come up with this knowledge, Iwu said research takes a long time while from the point of view of the researcher it is something out of the ordinary. “Initially people are skeptical and after a while they start accommodating, proved or disproved, and after a while before it is approved,” he said.

Supporting Iwu, Bulama, chairman of the occasion, who was represented by Mennasah Gwaza, said that the workshop was very apt and relevant to the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan which strives to use all the available resources of the nation to improve on the welfare and wellbeing of all Nigerians.

He described HerbFest as a laudable initiative, which has the potential to assist, promote the production of healthy indigenous foods and herbal therapies that would assist to address local and global food nutrition and health challenges, encourage sustainable utilisation of our vast biological resources, facilitate conservation of our environment and assist the creation of job and wealth to the nation through industrial expansion, commerce, science, technology and innovation development.

Bulama’s view is backed up by the fact that the African continent possesses a rich biodiversity of plants, with about 45,000 plant species of which 5,000 species are used for medicines. Nigeria possesses about 40 percent of these medicinal plants.

“This government is aware that medicinal plants and herbs which are indigenous to Nigeria have substantially contributed to the healthcare delivery and general wellness of our people and with the deployment of science, technology and innovation, herbal products such as antimalarial, anticancer, sickle cell anaemia (eg Nicosan, Solamin, Ciklavit) and others developed for the management of opportunistic infections and immune boosters for HIV/AIDS, from Nigeria’s bio-resources are gradually gaining global recognition with possible potentials and capacity to address a good number of the world’s health challenges.

Also, results from ethno medicinal surveys of medicinal aromatic and pesticidal plants documentation across the nation have shown that vast potential of various Nigerian plants. A number scientists have been working on different Nigerian plants such as garnina kola which have antiviral effects and potentials, for the management and possibly cure viral health challenges including perhaps the Ebola viral disease which is currently ravaging a few West African countries, the minister noted, adding that he expects that standardised herbal therapies would be developed soon from these efforts.

This is why the minister urged the organisers of HerbFest, founded by Iwu, researchers, entrepreneurs, traditional medicine practitioners and other critical stakeholders to promote and develop our indigenous bio-resources, natural medicine knowledge and natural product resources because these would assist enhance health care delivery and economic development in Nigeria, Africa and indeed the world at large. He assured that the ministry would continue to provide a credible platform for bio-resources development and support innovative researches to assist, develop natural products research and develop outputs which will indeed contribute to create jobs, wealth and assist improve lives and wellbeing of our people.

Despite the minister’s assurance, traditional medicine practitioners who used more of herbal medicine to treat diseases have their reservations. They believe that government has been paying lip service to encouraging the sector without doing the needful such as passing the law legalising their practice in the country and compelling orthodox doctors to use some of their approved remedies to treat patients.

Oleabhiele summed the view of some of the traditional medicine practitioners, who spoke to Realnews, when he urged the government to legalise traditional medicine in the country. He said although government has succeeded in setting up a committee for the promotion and export of herbal medicine, and the committee to write the herbal medicine so that herbal medicine can be taught in tertiary institutions in the country, there are major challenges militating against traditional medicine practice in Nigeria.

They include non-establishment of an office as national headquarters for traditional medicine practitioners in Abuja, and grant offices across the country; no visible collaboration between traditional medicine practitioners and conventional medical practitioners in Nigeria due to non-usage of herbal medicines listed by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC; no federal and state government budget allocation to traditional medicine research and development; no cultivation of medicinal plants, and no protection of intellectual property rights of traditional medicine practitioners.

The HerbFest is organised annually by Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency, NNMDA, a parastatal of the federal ministry of science and technology, in collaboration with FIIRO, InterCEDD, NANTMP, PROMETRA, NITDA, NASENI, CPC, MDC, NASDA, NBTI, NOTAP, NAFDAC, SMEDAN, NEPC, NIPRD, PRODA and NISLT.

At this year’s event, special recognition for outstanding achievement award in the area of herbal medicine was presented in honour of Tonye Okujagu, director general NNMDA his devotion, hard work and for pioneering some of the scientific breakthroughs in the country in developing herbal products.

Most people who attended the 2014 HerbFest were impressed by the workshop and exhibitions. A media consultant, who wishes anonymity, said Nigerians should take advantage of the herbal sector. “The Nigerian of today and tomorrow should patronise herbs, not the imported orthodox medicines. The natural medicine today provides more jobs for the practitioners. More employments are created for our youths when we buy into these herbs. The Indian and Chinese herbal products are very expensive and they come here to collect our materials and package them to sell back to us. I urge Nigerians to take good advantage of our natural herbs.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. I am interested to invest and to promote ethnopharmocological research work to treat eye diseases .K indly fix up a programme and related projects in this regards . Since I am in Dubai having business connections from India , wish to handle some traditional medicines curing eye vision improvements etc . We have plenty of investment resources , need of expertised business executives support to promote the ethnomecines into international market . We already prepared a traditional medicines for diabetic cure and making arrangements for necessary international business links . Kindly guide and interact to proceed further to help the public

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