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Herbal viagra fails to impress

By Prabodh Chandrasekhar in Mumbai
May 24, 2005 09:41 IST
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Two years ago, safed musli, a natural herb, was hailed as a vital ingredient in treating erectile dysfunction. Today, it hasn't risen up to the promise it made.

Why? Did the seed companies overestimate the demand for this herb? Definitely not. While the demand for such curative drugs is still high, they hadn't taken into account the more accessible domestic allopathic alternatives of Cialis (Tadalafil) and Viagra, which continue to do roaring business.

That's why, the per kg price of safed musli has slumped from Rs 5,000 two years ago to Rs 1,000 today. Even cultivation has slumped. The herb, which used to be cultivated over 10,000 acres across Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, is now grown on less than 2,000 acres.

What's more, cultivators of the herb are increasingly turning to other cash-rich crops like vanilla, sugarcane, gooseberry and rice for better realisations.

"The seed companies are unable to buy back the final product from the farmers on earlier promised prices. This is leading to a string of litigations," say sources.

Over 50 companies sell safed musli seeds and provide technical support to farmers. They include Hyderabad-based companies like Nandan Biomatrix, Farmwealth Biotech, Greenagri Biotech, Nashik-based Shraddha Agroexports, Baroda-based Arichem and Bhubaneshwar-based SSS Biotech.

"The hype created by some agro-based companies attracted farmers and other growers to cultivate safed musli.

These companies finally procure the crop and sell to medicine manufacturers. However, safed musli could not stand up as a product compared with better alternatives. A lot of farmers have burnt their fingers by venturing into its cultivation, claim sources.

B Jayakumar, director of Nandan Biomatrix, one of the companies that pioneered the cultivation of this herb, blames the farmers.

"Before investing in cultivation, the farmers must do their homework on how much to produce and who to tie up with. A lot of unorganised, fly-by-night operators have come into the sector. The farmers should join hands only with organised players," he says.

The market for erectile dysfunction products is pegged at Rs 350 crore (Rs 3.5 billion). Of this, the local versions of aphrodisiacs account for Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion).

But making matters worse for the farmers, the efficacy of safed musli as an effective cure for erectile dysfunction has not been clinically established in India or overseas.
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Prabodh Chandrasekhar in Mumbai
Source: source

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