A call has been made for African countries to harness the immense economic potential and commercial value of herbal medicinal plants to address their economic deficits.
Professor Kwesi Yankah, former Minister of State in charge of Tertiary Education, emphasized that the wealth of the continent’s medicinal plant resources remains largely untapped. By prioritizing medicinal plants in health policies, guided by proper strategies, African nations can make significant contributions to their economies, noted.
Prof. Yankah said countries like China have successfully leveraged traditional medicine to contribute significantly to global trade, with China’s traditional medicine alone accounting for 30 percent of total world trade.
Africa, with its abundance of plant species, currently utilizes only about 5,000 plant species in traditional medicines out of the estimated 45,000 available. This means that approximately 40,000 plant species remain available for cultivation and utilization in the global market.
The importance of medicinal plants is widely recognized, as the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges that 70 to 80 percent of populations in developing countries rely on herbal plant medicine as remedies.
The global market for plant-derived products is estimated at US$83 billion, with Africa contributing eight percent to this market.
Moreover, medicinal plants have played a significant role in the development of modern drugs, with approximately 25 percent of modern drugs and up to 60 percent of antitumor drugs derived from natural products. However, only 15 percent of the world’s plant species have been evaluated for their pharmacological potential, highlighting the untapped potential of medicinal plants.
Ghana’s indigenous plants offer a valuable source of bioactive compounds that can be harnessed for drug development. By cultivating, processing, and exporting plant-derived pharmaceuticals, Ghana can create a thriving industry, generating employment opportunities and bolstering export earnings.
Dr. Kofi Bobi Barimah, a former Executive Director of the Centre for Plant Medicine Research (CPMR), stressed the need for scientists to advocate for the integration of herbal medicine into the country’s health system to ensure its sustainability. He pointed out that 80 percent of Africa’s population relies on medicinal plants for healthcare needs, making the continent particularly dependent on the sustainability of medicinal plants.
Climate change poses a significant threat to vegetation, including medicinal plants, and Dr. Barimah called for efforts to conserve plant life through measures like legislation, afforestation, restoration, and cultivation of medicinal plant farms. Sustaining medicinal plants amid global economic challenges and climate change is a challenging but crucial endeavor.
Olukemi A. Odukoya, President of the International Society for Medicinal Plants and Economic Development (SOMPED), highlighted the need for standardized herbal medicines. She emphasized that each country should establish its standards to control the quality and purity of products in the market. While standards may vary, basic criteria, such as microbial loads, quality, safety, and affordability, should be considered when producing herbal medicines.
The potential of medicinal plants in Africa remains largely untapped, and by focusing on their development and sustainable utilization, African nations can unlock significant economic opportunities while contributing to global healthcare solutions.
Source: Ghana Business