Commodification of Traditional Medicine in India: Asking the Sustainability Question
Of late, there has been an increasing global interest in traditional medicinal systems and in herbal medicine. In India, this has been witnessed in the Indian State of Kerala, in the form of increasing popularity of international Ayurvedic tourism. Traditional medicine systems like Ayurveda survived the modern competitive era of biomedicine by way of successful indigenous commercialization that has thrived mainly on domestic consumption. Though the adaptation of industrial mode of production and distribution is a century old story, new developments in the context of globalization have led to both increase in the scale and expansion of the categories of commodities. While the industry is increasingly interested in expanding and competing in the global market, the State is increasingly intervening to control the potentially lucrative source of revenue. Less importance is given to the invisible wealth of the herbs in their contribution to local health care and more attention is being paid to the resource for its global commercial potential. Does the visible monetary gain result in a less visible drain of critical resources? Does it make the service and medicine commodities less accessible to local consumers? Given the fact that ninety percent of the extraction of medicinal plants continues to be extracted from the wild, are there sufficient initiatives to conserve natural resources? The paper examines the sustainability of the current pattern of traditional medicine commodification in India, with specific reference to Kerala, based on a review of significant policies and practices over the past decade.
Keywords: Traditional Medicine, Commodification, Sustainability, Medicinal Plants, Natural Resource Conservation, Ayurvedic Commodities
Research Scholar (Graduate Student), Department of Anthropology, Washington University
Dr. Regi Thomas
Director, Institute of Social Engineering