Commodification of Traditional Medicine in India: Asking the Sustainability Question

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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
Stream: Cultural Sustainability
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Chithprabha Kudlu

Research Scholar (Graduate Student), Department of Anthropology, Washington University
St. Louis, Missouri, USA

I am currently a graduate student in Anthropology in Washington University in St. Louis, working on issues related to the commodification of traditional medicine in India and intellectual property issues in traditional knowledge. My current research interests in indigenous knowledge are also linked to my previous work and research experience in India, as a graduate student and researcher in interdisciplinary areas of education and Psychology. My areas of academic interest and work so far have included, talent education with specific reference to rural and disadvantaged populations, educational systems and philosophies, sociology of education, social psychology of education and the status of education in rural India.

Dr. Regi Thomas

Director, Institute of Social Engineering
Bombay, Maharashtra, India

Dr. Regi Thomas is currently an independent research consultant, also working towards building up a think-tank constituting of social scientists working towards a long-term objective of linking relevant social research to constructive social action. He graduated with a doctoral degree in Economics from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT, Bombay in 1999. His academic interest and work in social science include sustainable development, indigenous skills and knowledge in agriculture, homestead farming system in Kerala, organic agriculture and Gandhian Thought.

Ref: S08P0167