By Waliu Adeyeri
Herbs are the traditional cures for many types of ailments. Also, almost all modern drugs are made of herbs.
About 80% of Africans use herbs according to a 2019 survey by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
This huge patronage is the driving force for the herbs’ business which was operated by many who derive their livelihood from the profit made from selling herbs.
One of these herb traders is Mrs. Sanusi, who spoke to TheNewsBeam on the dynamics of the herbal business in Lagos, Nigeria.
My name is Mrs. Sanusi, though people call me Iya Amina. I am from Igode, Ogun State. I am married with children.
Since when have you been in the business?
I was born into it but I started mine about 2 years ago.
What are the criteria for going into the business?
It is a trade I inherited and learnt from my mother. You know it is a health-related business. So it is not just enough to inherit, you must also learn the trade. You must be able to identify the leaves, barks, and roots and their functions. , you get certified by joining the herbs sellers’ association.
Could you tell us the process involved in joining the herbs sellers association?
Anyone interested in getting certified and registered in the association will obtain a form from the association. He/she would be cross-examined. The applicant will also be tested during the registration process.
Are there rules and regulations guiding the association?
Yes, one of them is that leaves sellers cannot sell roots. Such a rule also applies to root sellers.
What are the fines for breaking such regulations?
There are fines for breaking the rules, which could be in monetary terms or suspension.
What are the dos and don’ts of the trade?
One needs to be careful when dealing with customers in the business. Ensure you are knowledgeable about the business. Don’t give the wrong leaf to your customers.
People see a herb seller as an Ifa Priest/ritualist, what would you say about that?
A herb seller and a priest are different. A herbalist only deals in solving health-related issues while ritualists/priests deal with religious tasks. We deal only in diagnosing patients and treating them with herbs.
There are many Muslims and Christians who have gone on the obligatory holy pilgrimage yet they sell herbs for a living.
Though some traditionalists try to initiate the sellers, they back off as soon as they realise that the sellers have gone on the holy pilgrims (Mecca and Jerusalem).
What is the relationship between the business and herbalists and ritual killers etc?
The difference as stated earlier is that herbalists deal in leaves, roots, and bark of trees. While priests are saddled with spiritual tasks in society. Some of the tasks include appeasing deities on spiritual/religious issues.
What are the dangers or risks involved in this business?
As we know, businesses have their risks. The risks in this business often include dealing with hostile customers and limited spaces in marketplaces.
How much does it cost you to start?
It depends on the area of the business you want to venture into. We are the ‘oloko’ – farmers, those who get the leaf from the farm (usually a distant village) directly. We also have the ‘oloja’ – traders – they buy from the farmers and sell directly to the consumers.
Although we farmers also sell to consumers, our target customers are the traders (oloja) who often double as traditional pharmacists/doctors (herbalists). They could diagnose their patients and prescribe the herbs.
What is the process involved in starting the business?
The process I employed is quite simple. As a farmer of herbs. What I do is go to bushes around me in my hometown. Sometimes the owner of the land may sell the herbs to us, sometimes the herbs are found around us. We travel to the city to sell herbs.
As you can see, I travelled from my village which is in Ogun State to sell my goods here, in Ikorodu, Lagos every nine days.
This market in Ikorodu is known as ‘Oja Iworo,’ it is scheduled for every 9 days. So we bring our goods here on such days to sell. With about N5,000 we can start the business.
You mentioned that you sell your goods only every 9 days at Iworo market in Ikorodu, what do you do on the days you don’t come to the market?
Yes, I engage in other side hustles because I have a handiwork I engage in.
How much do you earn on such market days?
We make about N5,000 – N10,000 sometimes.
Do you think this business is lucrative for graduates?
Yes, it involves the use of herbs that are used to make modern-day medicines. So it’s not a degrading job or an illiterate business. It’s a viable means of solving the unemployment problem and poverty in the country.
As a herbs seller, how do you know the ailment of a person and the herbs to prescribe?
As I said earlier, we are just farmers who barely prescribe herbs. But we sometimes sell to consumers who tell us the nature of their ailments. Those whose ailments are not visible, we refer them to go and carry out medical tests or see professional herbalists.
Do herbs have dosages?
It depends on the type of ailments the person is experiencing. A person could be told to take the herbs twice/thrice in a day or anytime he/she is thirsty.
For example, the herbs for malaria fever could be taken anytime you are thirsty or thrice in a day after meals.
Tell us the varieties of herbs you have and their functions.
Many herbs perform different functions. Click here to see some of the herbs and their functions.
Many men in Nigeria prefer using herbs to boost their sexual strength, how effective are the herbs?
Such herbs are very effective. They could help the man’s erection and also make him stay long in the process.
What are the side effects of such herbs?
Too much of these herbs could lead to the weakness of the male’s organ. Hence, we advise that they should take it once in a while.
What is the nastiest experience you ever had in the trade?
The morning a woman came to buy some herbs from me. She was the first person to patronise me that day. But to my surprise, she started abusing me and cursing.
I didn’t respond to her but some of the elders around me reacted.
What is your advice to anyone who wants to do this business?
Before you can start this business, you must learn. Knowledge is very important here. Joining this business is like joining the health sector.
Herbs are special weeds, roots, and tree bark that may be cooked or eaten raw by soaking in water. Herbs could be drunk or used for bathing depending on the nature of the ailments and the type of herbs.