Ayurveda has a ministry and entrepreneurs backing it, but why do customers and patients shun it?

While ayurveda healthcare and wellness products seemed to have witnessed a resurgence globally, the traditional system of medicine is nowhere close to winning the market game

The lack of right level of collaboration of the entire ecosystem of Ayurveda including raw material collectors, dealers, processing and manufacturing industries, practitioners and consumers is dampening the growth of the traditional medicine industry

Never has ayurveda had it so good. On 17 October 2017, on the Ayurveda Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a first-of-its-kind All India Institute of Ayurveda along the lines of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The government has decided to set up an AYUSH (ayurveda, yoga, unani, siddha and homoeopathy) hospital in every district of the country, said Modi. He also asserted that time had come for a traditional medicine revolution.

The trend has caught on both within and outside the country, where the government is pushing the traditional Indian health system in partnership with other countries. It is in talks with Singapore to promote research in the field of ayurveda. Ayurvedic products should be treated the same as how traditional Chinese medicine is treated in Singapore, India’s high commissioner to Singapore Jawed Ashraf said last year, noting the growing popularity of ayurveda in Singapore.

According to Rajesh Kotecha, secretary of the Ministry of AYUSH, the ministry is taking many steps to promote ayurveda in in the areas of health services, education and research. The ministry has a network of reputed institutions with qualified experts who work in these areas. The institutions include the Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences, All India Institute of Ayurveda, National Institute of Ayurveda, Institute for Postgraduate Teaching and Research in Ayurveda, North Eastern Institute of Ayurveda and Homeopathy and Rashtriya Ayurveda Vidyapeeth. Recently, on the second United Nations Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises day, the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises organised Udyam Sangam, where experts and stakeholders brainstormed to revamp the AYUSH sector and take it to the next level. “Entrepreneurs must leverage the huge demand for ayurveda. The goods and service tax has also been brought down to five per cent to encourage the sector,” said Kotecha. The ministry is expecting a three-fold increase in the market size for ayurvedic products from $2.5 billion to $8 billion by 2022.

The return to glory

Ayurveda is one of the oldest systems of medicine that has been in practice for over 5,000 years. And yet, until recently, the common belief was that ayurveda was ineffective in acute and severe cases. Ayurveda entrepreneurs are on a mission to change this perception. “If a person chooses to make the required changes in his or her lifestyle and uses the right combination of ayurvedic herbs and bhasmas, ayurvedic medication is very effective,” argues Ashok Gupta, founder of Amrutam, a manufacturing company that produces over 400 patented ayurvedic, herbal and medicinal products. Also, with the increasing awareness among consumers about the ill effects of using chemically produced products, natural remedies, like ayurveda, have caught everyone’s attention. Today, ayurvedic products are present across categories, such as food items, personal care and beverages.

The Indian ayurvedic market has witnessed a renewed focus given the rising consumer base and the availability of a variety of ayurvedic products. “The demand for ayurvedic products and services has been increasing because of the increasing awareness amongst the masses about the benefits of ayurvedic lifestyle,” says Gupta. Even practitioners and groups identified with allopathy are willing to invest money and energy in ayurveda research. Dr Naresh Trehan, the founding chairman of Gurugram’s Medanta Hospital is working on the ancient Indian system of medicine to give it a contemporary outlook and bring it to the mainstream.

Rajesh-Kotecha-Secy, ministry of AYUSH- SME Futures

Over the last few years, there have been several other initiatives being taken to revive ayurveda. The Indian government established the Ministry of AYUSH in 2014 in a bid to promote ayurvedic products. Over the last few years, several consumer goods companies have made their mark in the traditional medicine industry. The list includes big brands, such as Dabur, Himalaya, Emami, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu and Vicco. The FMCG major Dabur India has tied up with Amazon to sell its range of products in overseas markets, particularly the US and Mexico.

The acceptance of ayurvedic products is such that it is also trendy these days to refer to traditional roots to promote products. Commenting on the re-branding of Nomarks as a modern Ayurvedic brand, Sandeep Verma, president, sales and marketing at Bajaj Corp, says “Ayurveda is becoming a way of life for the present generation of highly aware consumers.” Mumbai-based Future Group has also announced its foray into ayurvedic products market in an effort to reinvent its brand. It is said that the group’s CEO Kishore Biyani was reportedly inspired by the Patanjali’s short, but triumphant, stint in the ayurvedic personal-care market.

The downside

Kotecha of the AYUSH ministry may insist that the tradition of ayurveda is very much alive, but as per key indicators released by the National Sample Survey Office in March 2016, it is estimated that only about six per cent of the people received treatment from traditional systems of medicine, including ayurveda and homoeopathy. The major problem has been the limited availability of ayurvedic medications in neighbourhood chemist stores. According to the AYUSH ministry, there has been only a marginal increase in the number of ayurvedic dispensaries between 2001 and 2011 – from 13,939 to 15,353 – while the country’s population grew by more than 180 million in this period. Despite the ministry’s renewed push to advance access, consumer confidence in sellers is low because of a lack of knowledge of inventories among retailers. Gupta of Amrutam says that the basic challenge that ayurveda faces is the unavailability of information in a format that a common person can understand.

No major breakthrough in Ayurveda- SME Futures

Also, there is hardly any pioneering research work being done in ayurveda. Though thousands of ayurvedic graduates pass out of dedicated institutions each year, only a few get into research. The ayurvedic literature has largely been a static point of reference. “Documentation is currently missing in AYUSH. We need to document the patients treated. It is also important to provide incentives to AYUSH entrepreneurs to encourage investment in ayurvedic medicine,” says Dr Y K Gupta, head, department of pharmacology at AIIMS, Delhi. Dr Manoj Nesari, joint advisor (ayurveda) at the Ministry of AYUSH, echoes these views: “Ayurveda lacks super-speciality treatments for advanced diseases. We need to have a specialised wing of ayurveda that can provide such treatments.”

However, there is a class of entrepreneurs who have made efforts to change the product availability with e-commerce and branding. Jeevika Tyagi, ex-CEO, Allayurveda, an e-commerce portal for ayurvedic, organic and natural products, says, “We [as a society] do not market and promote AYUSH products the way we are supposed to. Ayurveda is being portrayed as old school, irrelevant and boring. It is time we make it relevant to everyone again.”

The other delimiting factor when it comes to ayurvedic products is the availability of the raw materials. Over 600 medicinal plants, 52 minerals and 50 animal products are commonly used as raw materials for ayurvedic medicines, according to the AYUSH ministry. However, the availability of these plants has become circumspect as many species of medicinal plants have become threatened. According to the AYUSH ministry, 93 per cent of wild medicinal plants used for making ayurvedic medicines in the country are endangered. About 50 medicinal plants in the state of Uttarakhand alone fall into the category of endangered species as notified by the ministry.

Unrealised potential

Despite its increasing popularity, it is clear that promoting ayurveda needs serious interventions. Kotecha of Ayush says, “The ministry is planning to create an online database of various home-grown healing methods.” He also said that the ministry is working to improve the ease of doing business in this sector.

That technology could be the game-changer is also clear. Recently, an agreement was signed between the All India Institute of Ayurveda and the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, under which the faculty at the two institutes will work together to look at ways to integrate technology with ayurveda.

It is true that the government is bending its back to promote ayurveda. But, it could optimised these efforts by exposing the younger generation to ayurvedic system of healthcare. “Nearly 41.08 per cent of India’s population falls in the age-group between 25 and 54. We need to create awareness amongst this category and promote ayurveda as a lifestyle to them. This can be done by creating easy-to-understand content and regular meet-ups,” argues Gupta of Amrutam. Mukesh Kumar, a veteran in the field of AYUSH, agrees with Gupta: “We failed to create a market for ayurveda because of our reliance on modern medicine. It is time we engage common people and communicate the benefits of traditional medicine.”

The lack of quality control and standardisation must also be tackled. “There is a lack of standards and methods for evaluating traditional medicine to ensure safety and efficacy. It is important to develop a standard operating procedure for the standardisation of herbal drugs and formulations,” says Anshu Rathi, a doctor with AIMIL, a New Delhi-based pharmaceutical company.

Also, as the demand for natural products increases, it is important to ensure the availability of raw materials at reasonable prices. “The supply chain, including harvesting, processing, transportation and storage, must be regulated properly. This will require strict steps taken by the government,” says Dr Tanuja Manoj Nesari, director, All India Institute of Ayurveda.

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