Medicinal plants: a perspective business or a hobby?
According to different data, at present from 300 to 500 farmer enterprises on the territory of Ukraine deal with medicinal plants cultivating, while the total area of medicinal plants crops fluctuate from 6 to 7 thousand hectares. There are several reasons for the revival of the branch that fell into decay after the breakup of the Soviet Union: some farmers search for new cultures for shift of crops, others try to find some ways of achieving a rise in profitability, but the essence of the matter remains the same. It consists in the effectiveness of this direction being several times higher than that of grain crops or sunflowers.
It is obvious that one will not manage to start this business, being so unusual for general understanding, simply following his own inclination. Of course, lots of information can be easily found through the Internet, but, as a rule, it is not quite objective and is either directed on the reinforcement of the seeds sales or it may be just a scientific essay. It would be much more useful to address to special scientific centers since there are some of them in our country.
First of all, it is the Institute of Agroecology and Environmental Management of the National Academy of Agrarian Sciences of Ukraine and foremost its Research Station of Medicinal Plants. We have talked to the manager of the department of technology HUBANYOV Oleksandr Heorhiyovych who told us about the state of the home market of medicinal plants raw material:
- Oleksandr Heorhiyovych, what are the reasons for such low popularity of medicinal plants cultivating among Ukrainian farmers in spite of their high profitability?
- It is true that not long ago it was possible to get a profit of 300-350% on some kinds of medicinal plants. Nowadays the situation has changed as the imported raw material, and specifically Chinese, has appeared on Ukrainian market, but, nevertheless, the profitability remains rather high. Most processers understand that Ukrainian raw material is much better in quality than Chinese and they give preference to it, so there are a large number of opportunities for our home manufacturers. Unfortunately, our organization remains the only one promoting medicinal plants cultivation in Ukraine, but we cannot embrace all the problems of the branch and especially the most important of them concerning the absence of sufficient amount of proficient information.
- So, the market does have some perspectives, doesn’t it?
- It undoubtedly does. The opportunities are great and they concern most part of medicinal plants. Some of them are well-developed, others are less. For example, it has become very popular to cultivate holy thistle because of the simplicity of the process. Compared to the process of camomile cultivation, the technology is a few times easier.
- What can you say about mechanization in the process of medicinal plants cultivating?
- Well, there are foreign and Ukrainian ways of mechanization including technologies designed in our institute. But not all the enterprises can afford buying them. In the first place, manual work greatly increases the terms of the job execution and, as a result, the profitability of a culture becomes a few times lower. By the way, it is another problem connected with low popularity of the branch being discussed.
- Are there any recommendations you could give to beginners?
- In my occupation, I often encounter the fact that people see their resources and desires in the wrong perspective. When they address to our organization, they learn about high profitability of the branch and have an intention to embrace all the cultures at once not having in so doing neither technical capability, nor the principles of the business organization or even soils prepared in a proper way. It happens that when I am invited to enterprises in order to assess the prospects of medicinal plants cultivation, I see knee-high weeds on the fields and, of course, I refuse to work there. People who are accustomed to cultivation of grains or technical cultures do not understand that agrotechnics of medicinal plants is quite different and it is difficult to convince them. There are some other problems as well. In particular, when there is a perfectly prepared soil, farmers want to sow large areas at once not understanding that the main load in this technology consists in the postharvest improvement of crops. As for the flowers or plants, they should be dried in appropriate conditions, as for the roots, they should be washed properly, then chopped and dried as well. So, I will give one, but a very important piece of advice: always assess your capabilities adequately.
- How many companies dealing with medicinal plants raw material processing are there in Ukraine?
- About 3 thousand. But they are not only producers of drugs, they are also producers of cosmetics, alcohol etc. And, believe me, those companies experience great deficit in qualitative raw material quality which indicates high prospectivity of the business.
- Is there a priority-oriented raw material among medicinal plants?
- I cannot name such species as all of them are popular and will remain so for a long time. But it is better to begin with less difficult technologies demanding less expenses where you do not need to use expensive preparations or drip irrigation, for example, as in a camomile cultivation process.
Moreover, there are different cooperatives and harvesting organizations dealing with cultivation and harvesting of medicinal plants raw material on the territory of our country. They may differ in specific character of their work: some of them only deal with harvesting, others – with processing as well, but they are willing to cooperate with private harvesters as well as with organizations. Besides that, they help both theoretically and practically. It may be the ideal variant for beginners.
Today the potential for medicinal plants raw material market development is really high. Farmers are afraid of innovations, that is why much time will be needed for this gap to be filled.
And my interlocutor is right. For example, “Tiutiunnyk” farmer enterprise of Berdyans’k area in Zaporizhzhya region started to develop the business in the following way. “Our cultivable areas are not large. Cultivation of grain crops was profitable, but the profit was not sufficient for good further development. So we had to make a choice: to continue working with grains and sunflowers and make no headway or to find a new, more profitable direction”, says the agronomist Petrenko Oleksandr Borysovych. “We thought about medicinal plants and addresses to the Research Station of Medicinal Plants where we got more than exhaustive information. Together we worked out the checklist for camomile cultivation in our region, sew it under their guidance and up to now we continue our cooperation. It is difficult to get rid of habitual stereotypes as it happens that now you with your own hands plant weeds on your fields that are the weeds you have been fighting with during all your “farming” practice. And it concerns not only camomile as we are planning to cultivate mint, melis, valerian, coneflower and plantain as well. Of course, initial expenses are rather big as the equipment for medicinal plants processing differ from those seeding or reaping machines we are used to. In particular, we have designed our own camomile flowers reaping machine including all the schemes and the construction process. Undoubtedly, we could purchase it, but the imported counterpart costs $15 000 and we did not have so much spare money. We have also a bit outwitted the sewing technology and instead of a vegetable seeding machine we used that for grains with a few modifications of our own”, continues Oleksandr Borysovych. “It should be mentioned that at the beginning of our work with camomile I had to listen to lots of critics and mockeries as there were vast fields of wheat, barley, sunflowers and rapes and only a small area of camomile. But all the mockeries immediately disappeared when everybody saw the first results. And now they phone us, ask for help and consultations.”
Medicinal plants raw material cultivation may seem to be a hobby at the first sight but it really brings a good profit. One automatically makes such a conclusion on studying all the existent information on this subject. When I was finishing my work on the article, I visited “Tiutiunnyk” farmer enterprise: it was March and the field was green with camomile, in the workshops they were finishing the season’s preparations and the people we fussing around in anticipation of interesting work. Let us wish good luck and further success to the innovators of “Tiutiunnyk” farmer enterprise in developing new beneficial business directions.
By Volodymyr Vasyl’yev
“Nyva” journal, Symferopol’, published in March 2013