The Politics of Knowledge of Medicinal Plants in India: Corporations, Collectors and Cultivators as Constituents

AuthorAbhishek Handa
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/23210230221083244
Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterSpecial Section: Politics of KnowledgeArticles
The Politics of Knowledge
of Medicinal Plants in India:
Corporations, Collectors and
Cultivators as Constituents
Abhishek Handa1
Abstract
This article seeks to understand one of the most important problems in the contemporary discourse
of modern development, that of management, control, collection and trade of medicinal plants in India.
The tremendous growth in the market for herbal medicines since the 1990s has prompted large-scale
industrial production of these medicines by big pharmaceutical corporations. This relies on medicinal
plants mostly derived from the wild, and while their market has grown enormously, it has also led to
their over-harvesting, without any concomitant efforts at regeneration. This article offers to analyse
the political aspect of the existing market supply chain of medicinal plants in India. This study specifically
focuses on problematizing the complex power structures in the market supply chain of medicinal plants,
with reference to the knowledge of production that guides the corporations. In order to manufacture
herbal products on the basis of large-scale centralized production systems, the corporations privilege
their ‘knowledge’ of harvesting, production and distribution over that of the collectors. The collec-
tors are usually part of communities that have built up their knowledge of accessibility and medicinal
properties of these medicinal plants over centuries of care, experience and innovation. It is when these
two knowledge systems clash, in the larger context of political economy of development and the public
policies of the state, that the degradation of nature becomes inevitable.
Keywords
Politics of knowledge, collectors, pharmaceutical corporations, market supply chain, commissioning agents
Introduction
Globally since the last two decades of the twentieth century, we observed the tremendous growth in
the market of herbal and traditional medicines derived from the wild biodiversity of medicinal plants.
The major reason for the boom in international demand lies in the increasing public awareness of the side
Article
1 Department of Political Science, University of Delhi, New Delhi, Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Abhishek Handa, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi, New Delhi, Delhi 110007, India.
E-mail: abhishekhanda1989@gmail.com
Studies in Indian Politics
10(1) 93–106, 2022
© 2022 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/23210230221083244
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