Natore villages unlock economic power of medicinal plants

Abu Sufian

Vast fields of medicinal plants offer a wonderful sight for the eyes and a fresh air filled with fragrances for the hearts to the travellers who approach Laxmipur Kholabaria union, located about 10 km east of Natore Sadar upazila.

Fifteen villages in the area, collectively termed “Oushadhi Graam (village of medicinal plants)” as they stand out from any other area of the country, thrive on cultivating, processing and marketing herbal medicines.

Around 800 families experienced in making herbal and Ayurvedic medicines produce around 30 metric tonnes of natural medicinal products per day. Their daily trade amounts to Tk3 lakh to Tk4.5 lakh on an average, according to sources.

The Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) are financing a project titled “Market Development of Medicinal Product in Laxmipur Kholabaria and Baro-Harishpur unions under Sadar upazila of Natore”, implemented through the Uttara Development Programme Society (UDPS).

Habibur Rahman, assistant general manager and project coordinator (PACE) of PKSF, told the Daily Sun, “The market for herbal products is expanding day by day. We have arranged advanced training for farmers to develop this sector to its fullest potential.

We are also providing technical assistance to the entrepreneurs in this sector.” He said special education focusing on medicinal herb production is essential for developing the skills of people involved in this sector, as well as for ensuring that the supply matches the demand for these products in the country.

Dr SM Faruk-Ul-Alam, value chain specialist (PACE) of PKSF, told the Daily Sun, “Our first target was to build good nurseries, then to teach the herbal medicine producers the use of technology in this sector.”

When the project was started in 2017, only 16 medicinal plants were produced in the area, but currently 153 types of plants and six other products related to herbal medicines are produced here, said Dr SM Faruk-Ul-Alam.

He said processing, packaging, and branding of herbal medicines are done in the villages of production, which have created jobs for a large number of people in the area. Besides, when the project started, the number of entrepreneurs involved in herbal medicine production was 10,000,

which has currently increased by four times. Md Akhtar Uddin, executive director of Uttara Development Programme Society (UDPS), said, “We have organised training programmes here to encourage the practice of using herbal medicines. Hands-on training funded by PKSF is provided to the workers.

“Along with this, assistance is provided to entrepreneurs for setting up factories, processing plants, storage facilities and marketing systems.

As a result, more farmers are getting interested in it now, which in turn is making a huge contribution to the economy of Bangladesh.” Practitioners of herbal medicine and wholesalers from different parts of the country collect various plants including Dudhshagar, Patharkuchi, Kashaba,

Ulat Kamal, Karna Palash, Basak, Tulsi, Ghrit Kanchan, Shatamuli, Shimul, Pudina, Jasthmidhu, Neem, Ashwagandha.

Local people of the Kholabaria area said two centuries earlier medicinal plants were grown only in the courtyards of houses and alleys of cultivated lands, but now plants like Ghritakanchan, Alkushi, Ashwagandha and Shatamuli, are cultivated on large fields just like any other cash crop.

Medicinal plants hold a significant place in the traditional healthcare system of Bangladesh. Around 200 types of medicinal plants grow in the wild, some of which are cultivated extensively in certain areas of the country, said people involved in the sector.

Over 20,000 tonnes of herbs is required annually by the country’s Unani, Ayurveda, and general pharmaceutical companies. Bangladesh currently imports herbs and shrubs worth approximately Tk350-400 crore per annum, said sources at UPDS.

Herbal medicine production in the Natore villages is increasing every year to keep up with the rising demand for Ayurvedic medicines. To cope with the modern market condition, farmers and traders there have started using the technology. Internet facilities at shops and online marketing have become common for the traders, who have been supplying medicinal herbs to wholesalers as well as patients by courier services.

Besides, seven mills which process herbal plants with automatic machines were set up in the area under the UPDS project. Mahbubur Rahman, owner of a mill, told that he left his job at one of the leading mobile phone companies in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic and set up the factory,

where currently nine people work. Around 3,000 kg of herbs are crushed daily with a mini hammer machine in his factory capable of processing 55 types of medicinal plants. Another entrepreneur,

Md Obaidullah, said he returned to his village home, after completing graduation from a university in Dhaka and set up his shop “Ma Herbal”. He started from zero, but currently his capital stands at around Tk20 lakh.

His monthly sales amount to Tk15 lakh and profit stands at Tk1 lakh as traders from different areas, including Savar and Gazipur,

buy herbal products from him, he added. At present, there are around 50 wholesale and retail herbal medicine businesses in the Laxmipur Kholabaria union. Besides, a market of herbal medicines called “New Market” and an organisation of traders named “Medicinal Traders Cooperative Society” have been set up in the area.

Farmers in the area said cultivating medicinal plants is more profitable than growing other crops. They also enjoy an advantage as the soil and climate of the area are suitable for cultivating medicinal plants.

Local people said a kabiraj (practitioner of herbal medicine) named Afaz Pagla used to treat people using medicinal plants in the 1990s.

As he earned a widespread reputation, people from distant areas started coming for his medicines, so he started cultivating different types of herbs on the land around his house.

Gradually, other people in different areas of the union, including Kholabaria, Kanthalbaria, Gazipur, Chauri, Ibrahimpur areas, started cultivating the medicinal plants.


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