Long road ahead for Iran’s Medicinal Plants Industry

By Maysam Bizaer for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.

The world has seen great advances in medicine in recent centuries, leading to the discovery and manufacture of numerous types of drugs to cure diseases. Yet many around the world still prefer to use plants and natural products to improve their health, mainly to avoid side effects caused by chemical drugs.

As a result, the production of medicinal plants has emerged as a new industry, with their exports rising over the past several decades. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global sales of such herbal medicine products were estimated at $60 billion in 2002. The figure jumped to $150 billion in 2013 and this trajectory is set to continue in coming decades.

In Iran, however, things are different. Exports of medicinal plants have declined in the past two decades, even though the country is home to 8,000 plant species, of which more than 2,300 have medicinal properties. A whopping 1,728 of them are endemic to Iran.

The country was the world’s top exporter of medicinal plants in 1998. But this declined in the ensuing years, and was ranked fifth in 2003 and 32nd in 2014. Currently, Iran ranks 60th among exporters of medicinal herbs, which gives the country only a 3% share of global markets. Saffron and damask rose have the lion’s share ($500 million) of Iran’s annual medicinal plants exports ($600 million). Germany and the United Arab Emirates are currently the main export destinations of Iranian medicinal herbs, followed by Japan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China.

Iranian exporters blame sanctions for the declining exports. “Before sanctions, the US and Europe were the biggest customers of Iran’s medicinal plants. But currently, Iranian producers cannot sell their products due to sanctions and issues related to money transactions,”Jalil Maghazeie, head of the Iranian Herb and Spice Association, told local media Nov. 21. This is while other officials believe that the relatively low production and export of medicinal plants is related to domestic factors such as the lack of required product processing standards.

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