By Aye Aye Moe Hlaing (Myanma Alinn)
Myanmar is rich in natural resources including medicinal plants. Some herbal roots are used locally while some are exported to foreign countries. The Gentian root is one of the export items.
The exploration of Gentian root is widespread at Phoe Saung Hill in the north west of Tatkon of Nay Pyi Taw and it also creates job opportunities for locals. Therefore, we interviewed U Min Min who runs Gentian root digging operation from Thahtay gone Ward of Kyathay-aing Village-tract of Tatkon of Nay Pyi Taw.
Q: First, please tell me how this Gentian root is useful.
A: It is useful to us in many ways. From the point of traditional medicine, the Gentian root is bitter, digestible, and causes bowel obstruction, wormlike drops and muscle strength. It also prevents Biliary atresia. The physicians recognize the Gentian root as the most useful for strength out of the medicines with a bitter taste. Moreover, it breaks the blood clots, makes the abdomen bloat and releases the trapped wind. It can also cure bruises, flatulence, delusion, cough and phlegm.
If we grind the root and boil it by adding salt, and if we take it, it can pass out the menstrual blood and rotten menstrual blood from the body and the skin will glow. Moreover, the women can drink the liquid after grinding the root, they will not suffer from menstrual disorder. Then, it can mix one tical of Gentian root, one tical of liquorice, two ticals of baked salt and one tical of tamarind paste, and they can be treated for whooping cough in children. Moreover, the root can cure muscle stiffness and nervous system diseases.
Q: Where are these roots grown?
A: They grow in tropical climates. They like high temperatures. If we dig the roots, small pieces of some parts of the roots were left in the ground and so they become plants again. They can be called natural plants or Padethapins. They prefer sandy soil. They do not grow in subtropical regions. The production rate is very low in Shan State. It is better with the weather of Nay Pyi Taw.
Q: Please explain the Gentian root-digging industry and job opportunities for locals.
A: This kind of job does not need any capital. It is just a job opportunity for those who don’t have jobs. In their season, a person can earn about K10,000 per day. If a person gets three visses of roots, they might get K7,500 when the market price is K2,500. One group can get K60,000-K100,000. Even one viss makes fine profits when the price is on the rise. Those from near our area resell at our shop, Shwe Pyi Tan.
The workers reap good profits. A lot of people have dug the root recently. A large amount of root is dug at Thankhe Hill and Htantawkyi. The Leikpya root is sold to China directly. There is no demand in Myanmar. they mostly purchase Bommaravaka, Gentian root and Elephant Foot Yam in the long run. These plants will not be endangered. Even if we pile them, they will not damage. Therefore, it is a win-win solution for sellers and buyers and creates good job opportunities.
Q: As you said the roots are directly exported to China, I want to know how the condition is in the Chinese market.
A: The Chinese mainly purchases herbal plants and it is OK as there is no worker shortage problem. We receive Gentian root demand from China and we always check the rise and fall of Chinese currency.
Q: Do you export it to China directly?
A: I do not export it to China directly but to the wholesale centre in Mandalay. The Mandalay wholesale centre exports the roots to China. Previously, the roots were used just locally and we sent them to Yangon. The market is not huge.
Q: Does the Chinese side buy other kinds of herbal plants in addition to Gentian root?
A: Yes, it does. They buy various kinds of herbal plants including Rauvolfia, Gentian root, Cissus discolor Blume, Paris polyphylla, fan palm and Leikpya root. They mainly buy Gentian root and Elephant Foot Yam. The Rauvolfia is exported to India. The China side started buying the Gentian root in 2023. There is always a proper market.
Q: How about the local Gentian root market?
A: The current market price of fresh Gentian root is K2,500 per viss. It was K3,500 per viss in the past. We firstly transport to Mandalay wholesale centre. The dried root fetches K6,000/7,000 per viss currently. The worker gets between K1.5 million and K2 million in one season. A person gets at least three visses per day. If they go to the forest, they can get five, 10 or 15 visses. Their families also are OK. We get a good price per viss but we have to dry three or four visses of wet root. The roots are rarely damaged. The price is high if the Chinese demand is on the rise and so such a situation creates good job opportunities for the workers. Some go into the forest together with their families and friends carrying lunch boxes to dig the roots.
Q: How sustainable is the Gentian root industry?
A: There is always a market for this industry. We do not need to do anything special. We buy the fresh roots and dried ones. Then, we pack them. They are durable and can be stored. The operation runs depending on the rise and fall of Chinese currency so it can exist generation to generation.
Q: How does the Gentian root benefit the wholesale centre, exporters and workers?
A: For the wholesale centre, exporters and workers, there should be focal demand. No matter what the business is, it is convenient for all if there is firm market. It is OK as we have demand from China. If there is a market for this industry, it will be more convenient. We expect a better market.
Q: What would you like to add for those who have the same business as you as the Gentian root make profits?
A: One of my friends also operates that business. He can also make profits. I welcome other businesspersons. I also try to create further job opportunities for all who gather the roots.