Biotech agency aims for Thailand to be an herbal hub

Capitalizing on Thailand’s wealth of natural resources and growing prowess in research and development, the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC) is aiming to turn the Kingdom into a regional “herbal hub” and help meet the growing global demand for bioproducts, BIOTEC’s director said last week.

“There is a greater demand for bioproducts in the global market. Thailand also has the potential to deliver biocosmetics and biopharmaceuticals to the market, supporting the Thailand 4.0 strategy,’’ said Somvong Tragoonrung, executive director of BIOTEC.

The agency is working on creating herbal standards by identifying the quality of herbal and bioactive compounds used to manufacture ingredients for pharmaceuticals and food products. It will develop DNA barcoding and fingerprinting to help with conservation and so that ingredients can be identified through genetic markers.

Thailand 4.0 is the 20-year national strategy to create a more advanced technology-based economy and society driven by innovation and research and development with an emphasis on green products and development.

Policymakers hope to leverage Thailand’s trove of natural resources for green technologies and development. Recognizing the value of Thai plants and herbs and the need to protect and conserve them for the role they can play in the national strategy would have positive environmental impacts for the Kingdom.

Somvong said a focus on biotechnology could help improve plant breeding, support the seed industry, and protect plants from insect-borne diseases and extinction because of climate change.

A few other countries in the Southeast Asian region also possess considerable natural resources but have yet to develop the capacity for research and development, and the manufacturing and marketing prowess of Thailand.

Thai herbs have been used in cosmetics, medicines, foods, home remedies and other products, some of which are ingredients in products for brands that are becoming global in their presence.

“Thai herbs are not only precious local wisdom but also valuable resources,’’ said Chantira Jimreivat Vivatrat, director-general of the Department of International Trade Promotion at the Ministry of Commerce, which helped sponsor the Thai Herbal Life + Style Café exhibition in Bangkok at the end of October.

“The government has a master plan for Thai herb development to promote sustainability and the economic value of the herbs. At present, Thai herbal products range from health supplement food to beauty products are gaining in popularity, especially in Asia Pacific with more than 9 percent growth per year,” Chantira said.

Some of the herbs featured in the exhibition were turmeric, Thai black ginger, cassumunar ginger and Asiatic pennywort.