There are a string of offices under the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation to look after medicinal plants: a botanical garden, a herbarium and botanical laboratory, a laboratiry for drug research, herbal farms in several parts of the country and a Herbs Production and Processing Company. In theory, everything exists to make sure that medicinal plants are well researched and their full potential utilised. The National Herbarium and Botanical Laboratory would conduct ethno-botanic studies, and pass on promising plants to be studied in the Royal Drug Research Laboratory. If the plant revealed promising compounds, large-scale processing (extraction of essential oil, etc) could be done at the Herbs Production and Processing Company. The oils and compounds could then be sent over to the Government’s Royal Drugs Limited to be made into quality drugs. Cultivation of these medicinal plants would be done in Herbal Farms.
But the Government is not even utilising its existing institutional setup. The Royal Drugs Limited is limited to being an allopathic outfit. The ethno-botanic studies conducted, at the Herbarium are limited to collecting plants and sticking them in paper. The drug, research laboratory operates with a meagre budget, uses outdated equipment, and takes ages to analyse even the primary chemical constituents in a plant. The herbal farms exist in quiet desolation. The Processing Company struggles on but from its production you would not know that this plant has a near-monopoly on herbs that are legally, required to be processed within Nepal. It would rather let the machines rust than rent them out to interested businesses; and access to their zealously protected list of buyers is denied even to merchants interested in establishing small processing, factories. Indian traders, certainly, are not going to wait around for the government-run factory to deliver on an order. Says Praveen Agarwal, a New Delhi importer of Nepali herbal plants, “They are just not able to keep up with the market. You place an order and the thing does not arrive for four months. Who has that kind of time?”
So much for the Nepali Government’s efforts at promoting Himalayan herbs.