What’s in store for SL’s Ayurveda industry?
Sri Lanka has a history that goes back over 3,000 years in its traditional Ayurvedic herbs and medicines which have been faithfully passed down through the generations to the 21st Century. The country adopted the Ayurvedic tradition through a mix of Sinhala traditional medicine, mainland Ayurveda, Siddha systems of India, Unani medicine of Greece through the Arabs, and indigenous medicine (desheeya chikitsa).
Since the time of King Buddhadasa, the practice of such ancient indigenous medicines still exists in many areas in the country. For instance, if a Sri Lankan suffers a bone fracture, then that would mean there is a possibility of them healing the injury with assistance and guidance of a weda mahaththaya (Ayurvedic doctor) than an orthopedic.
However, the first and only Sri Lankan state owned licensed manufacturing Ayurvedic Drugs Corporation (SLADC) was incorporated in 1969 by the government extraordinary gazette notification No. 14853/1 dated 11 May 1969 under the provision of State Industrial Corporation Act. No. 49 of 1957.
Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Sri Lanka Ayurvedic Drugs Corporation (SLADC) Chairman Attorney-at-Law Sagala Abhayawickrama stated that SLADC has been producing drugs for more than 50 years in the industry and are the pioneers in manufacturing and marketing Ayurvedic drugs to government hospitals, nidahas Ayurvedic clinics, and agents and outlets islandwide.
Fortunately, Sri Lanka has been blessed with its own cultural, traditional Ayurvedic raw materials in order to produce the quantity demanded by the general public. According to SLADC, these medicinal raw materials are categorised into three sectors: Floral, faunal, and mineral. Abhayawickrama mentioned that most of the herbs used in the production is grown in Sri Lanka and most of the raw materials are taken from the herbal garden.
“We don’t use any fertilisers other than organic fertilisers in our herbal garden. We take the prescriptions from the Ayurveda Pharmacopoeia for the medicine we produce. These medicines have been used by our ancestors, Sinhala weda mahaththayas, for decades,” she explained.
With reference to the official website of SLADC, leaves, bark, roots, stems, flowers, and seeds fall into the category of floral raw materials, while milk, meat, urine, dung, shells, pearls, etc. are faunal raw materials. Rocks, minerals, and salts come under the category of minerals dug off the earth. However, it is evident that some of these floral parts and most of the minerals are allergic and toxic, which is why it is processed by refining and detoxifying for human medical use.
As a measure to protect the local manufacturing efforts, State Minister of Indigenous Medicine Promotion, Rural and Ayurvedic Hospitals Development, and Community Health Sisira Jayakody has directed SLADC officials to minimise the level of importing materials to Sri Lanka by at least 50%, as mentioned in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s manifesto “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour”.
Commenting further, Abhayawickrama stated that imports were cut down by 50% by growing/improving raw herbal resources such as katuwelbatu, salana, iramutu , ginger, turmeric, and other usually imported materials.
“The import restriction started in 2020. We have identified 24 materials we will not be importing. However, to meet our market’s requirements, we have to grow it on a large scale, and now we are getting along in the process,” she said.
Meanwhile, speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, a spokesperson from the Ministry, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that measures are currently being taken in order to promote the local production and to transform the Ayurvedic sector to a self-sufficient industry.
According to the spokesperson, Rs. 2,000,000,000 (Rs. 2 billion) worth of Indigenous medicinal products are imported each year, out of which, 85-90% of these products could be produced and manufactured in Sri Lanka.
“Currently we are promoting the local production of these imports under the project titled ‘Suwadharani Osu Wagakarime Sangramaya’. We are planning to allocate lands for manufacturing. We have not initiated this project as of yet because we have not evaluated a pricing mechanism for these products,” the Ministry spokesperson commented.
However, Abhayawickrama noted that by 2022, SLADC will be able to stop most of the imports.
Just like every other industry, the Sri Lankan Ayurvedic industry too has plans to expand its wings to international borders, and as a measure, authentic Sri Lankan Ayurvedic centres are set to be established overseas. Speaking on this context, the Ministry spokesperson noted that this decision was taken due to the rise of indigenous medicine exports influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
Firstly, discussions are held to establish Sri Lankan Ayurvedic centres in international markets such as Australia, Austria, Germany, Qatar, and Canada. The Ministry is planning to officially speak to the relevant authorities and ambassadors of these countries regarding this establishment, the spokesperson said.
Secondly, an internal channel to connect to international markets will be developed. This approach includes a magazine, which will be titled “Suwadharani International Magazine for Indigenous Medicine in Sri Lanka”, will be provided to airlines, flights, high-class hotels, and restaurants. Thirdly, the Ministry is also looking to collaborate with international insurance companies such as BUPA and MediCare, where international patients will arrive in the country to be completely cured.
The fourth approach involves the establishment of Ayurvedic centres in the local hotel sector, the spokesperson said, adding: “This will be called ‘Sri Lankan Ayurvedic Treatment Centre’ rather than ‘Ayurvedic Spa’. As there are five main treatments that can be provided for consumers, we are planning to establish chains of these centres in the hotel sector in the country. Also, we are planning to issue loans for these centres to be constructed. We have discussed this with People’s Bank for the moment.”
Meanwhile, Abhayawickrama stated that SLADC will resume the exports industry starting from April 2021. Earlier, SLADC had exported it to Japan, but unfortunately, due to several procedural issues, the exportation has stopped. However, she said that as of now, their products are being exported in small qualities for people who request for it. SLADC is also expecting to start exporting to countries such as Japan, Seychelles, China, Fiji, Madagascar, and the UK.
Furthermore, under the expansion measures in place, SLADC is planning to initiate Ayurvedic drug capsules that could be used by the general public. Accordingly, experiments are going forward at the Bandaranaike Research Centre headed by Dr. Senaka Pilapitiya. “There are new products coming in, which we are going to introduce to the market within the next two months,” she added.
As mentioned earlier, the industry is extremely diversified in Sri Lanka, with medicines ranging from skin care to spa treatment. The range of classification exceeds the Sri Lankan portfolio in comparison to other countries globally.
One of the key brands in Sri Lanka which uses Ayurvedic resources is Siddhalepa. The company manufactures over 150 Ayurveda medicines as well as healthcare, beauty, skin care, oral care, wellness, and spa products.
Speaking to us, Siddhalepa Exports Assistant Manager Sumith Jayawardena said that raw materials are mostly collected in Sri Lanka while the remaining items are generally imported. “There are a lot of herbal ingredients. We have lands in Monaragala and Hambantota as well as several other plantations across the country.”
Explaining the export market performance of Siddhalepa Ayurvedic products, Jayawardena mentioned that the company is currently exporting to more than 25 countries and also to agents in several countries based on agreements of respective years, depending on each country. “We export more than 10 containers to China, a very difficult market, but anyhow we send our products to them,” he added.
However, what’s unique about Siddhalepa Ayurvedic product marketing is that they customise packaging and labelling based on the respective country’s law and languages, and whatever the customer requires, the company makes sure to change according.
Giving a concluding remark, Jayawardena stated that Siddhalepa Ayurvedic products are planning to expand their market by appointing more agents, holding brand exhibitions, and participating in international exhibitions where they will be given the opportunity to offer free samples to customers and prospective buyers. “These clients normally appoint some distributors to expand the markets,” Jayawardena added.
Ceylon Sergo Exports Managing Partner Ramesh Dunuwille, speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, said the product they export based on Ayurvedic herbal materials is mainly turmeric. Explaining the situation of exporting turmeric to the international market, Dunuwille said the industry is extremely struggling.
“Due to the import ban imposed on turmeric, we are losing 100%, as the prices of our products have drastically risen in comparison to our competitors in the international market,” he explained.
However, when inquired if there are plans to improve the position in the international market, Dunuwille mentioned that it is impossible to say anything in regard to the future until the restriction on the importation of turmeric is lifted.
Commenting on the local market, Dunuwille said that turmeric demand in the local market is so high that it is not enough to cater to the industry. “The company, the industry, and the overall country is facing a disadvantage in earning revenue.”
The value of our heritage will only remain as long as we take care of the traditions passed down from generation to generation. The things the country can achieve through its Ayurvedic potential is unimaginable. Abhayawickrama noted that the trust we as a country have in the roots is one of the reasons why the citizens are comparatively less affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When the whole world was alarmed by the disease with no cure, Sri Lanka remained in the second place during March 2020, and is also performing comparatively well even after the second wave. This is due to the trusted Ayurvedic herbal drinks like ‘inguru kottamalli’ and other syrups,” she said.
Abhayawickrama urged all persons to be connected with the traditional heritage. “I always tell people in the country to have a lifestyle connected with the Ayurvedic system as it would enhance the immunity and wellbeing of yourself,” she concluded.