In South Africa the demand for indigenous medicines and services is considerable compared with the demand for western health care services, and is growing due to population growth, poverty and beliefs. As a result, the demand for the popular plants used for indigenous medicines exceeds supply.

This publication by the FAO (one of the first comprehensive market surveys of medicinal plants in southern Africa) examines the demand for, and supply of, medicinal plants in Kwazulu-Natal, and the main marketing factors at play.

The indigenous medicine market is based on indigenous plants which are generally harvested from wild plant stocks. The available plant stocks are declining as they are not managed and little cultivation takes place. The study identifies three possible scenarios, which depend the actions of key players in the markets.

It identifies the most likely scenario as the commercialisation of indigenous plant production, which will cause prices to rise and exclude less sophisticated players from the market. The costs of this scenario will be borne largely by the current consumers, who will then lose access to basic medicine because of price increases and scarcity.

The study makes several recommendations for achieving a good balance between demand and supply.