Ten years ago Swaroop and his colleagues would visit property they owned in the northern Indian province of Himachal Pradesh, an area known for its plum farming. After each trip, Swaroop said he would comment about the heavy smog in the region, unaware of what caused the air pollution.
“I mean, there's no natural fire,” Swaroop said. “Then what we realized is that most of the farmers in this area grow fruit trees and that you have to cut the twigs so the plants can just keep on growing the flowers.”
Thousands of farmers would prune primarily plum trees and burn the excess twigs, causing the smog. Was it a problem Cepham officials could solve?
At the same time, Swaroop and his team were trying to combat another environmental roadblock that impeded supplement production.
An endangered tree
A priority for Cepham is men’s health, but the herbal ingredient supplier was faced with a sustainability challenge when creating its products for older adults.
Several nutraceutical companies focused on prostate health use the extracts from the Pygeum africanum, or the African plum tree, in supplements. However, the tree has been cut indiscriminately. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) recommends additional protection for pygeum.
Moreover, it takes at least 20 years before the bark of the African tree is ready for harvest, making it commercially difficult to meet demand.
Swaroop wanted an alternative ingredient for Cepham’s men’s health products.
“As a scientific curiosity, we just bought a few plum twigs back [from Himachal Pradesh] to the lab and basically started to do extraction to see what's inside,” he said. “To our surprise, we found the exact same biomarkers as the Pygeum africanum.”
Native to India, the plum tree, or Prunus domestica, has a chemical similarity of 99.5% to Pygeum africanum extract, emerging as a promising candidate for the health of older men due to its remarkable phytochemical composition.
Cepham developed a patented extraction technology to upcycle the pruning waste from the twigs. In the process, the company created Prosprune, which has undergone safety studies and human clinical trials. It has demonstrated effectiveness for men in supporting improved sleep through the reduction of nighttime urination; reduced inflammation and improved urine flow; an increase in total testosterone, strength and stamina; clearer skin; and reduction in hair loss, the company said.
Cepham finds itself within a complicated environmental legacy in India.
Less than 4% of Indian farmers have adopted sustainable agricultural practices. Although organic agriculture is gaining momentum in the country, it currently covers only 2% of India's net sown area.
However, grassroots movements are taking hold. Twenty years ago, villagers in the country's southern Andhra Pradesh region became a model for the nation when they stopped using pesticides that caused debilitating problems and adopted green agricultural methods. Non-pesticide management techniques became common place, native plant and insect species returned, and farmers saw an increase in earnings.
Since Cepham launched its partnership with Indian farmers, air pollution has decreased in Himachal Pradesh. By selling their twigs to the company, the farmers have not only engaged in sustainability, but they have also improved their incomes.
It’s a concept Swaroop wants to replicate in other farming communities across India. Currently Cepham is exploring the long fruit of the cashew plant. Some farmers in India throw it away, which results in odiferous compost that can be smelled for miles. Cepham has found a handful of health benefits from that fruit and plans to upcycle it as well.
Cepham will be showcasing Prosprune at booth #5073 at the SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas on Oct. 25-26.