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Tripura Traditional Healers to Sustain with Treasure of their Herbal Gardens
Pawan K Kaushik
Tripura Traditional Healers to Sustain with Treasure of their Herbal Gardens
PHOTO : Pic courtesy : PAWAN K. KAUSHIK

Tripura Traditional Healers to Sustain with Treasure of their Herbal Gardens - A Model to Promote Sustainable Use of Biological Resources in Tripura

Reasons of unsustainable use of herbs in the past:

The prevalent method of harvesting of medicinal plants in Tripura is by special community of medicinal practitioners known as “kaviraj” in various tribal groups. The kaviraj’s use forest resources, particularly certain traditional plants collected from the local forests for preparation of medicines for diseases right from stomach problem, flu, fever, bone fracture, snake bite, liver problem, jaundice and many others.

It is increasingly being recognised that the prevalent practice of the kaviraj’s is gradually becoming unsustainable. The reasons for this are manifold: prime most being a sharp shrinkage in the forest cover which was in turn affecting the access and availability of medicinal plants. Coupled with the fact that many a time immature plants were plucked or plants were extracted from the root, several of the plant species extracted had become rare and were being utilized and harvested without taking care of their culture.  This had resulted in extinction of several plant species. This extinction was felt to be a cause of serious concern since it was affecting the lives, livelihood of the kaviraj and also having a negative bearing on the traditional knowledge and medicinal practices.

Approaches towards promoting sustainable use:

The CFLE has ensured the sustainable use of the resources through a three pronged strategy:

(a)  Creating a self-help healers group with 55 traditional healers from different tribes to collect, grow and market over 100 varieties of rare and endangered medicinal plants

(b)  Setting up of over 10 medicinal plant farms across the Kanchanpur area in Tripura with dedicated 2 hectares of land, in total, for sustainable harvesting of varied varieties of medicinal plants. These farms have helped ensure availability of the requisite plants and conserve biodiversity and several rare species.

(c)    Creation of a record book with traditional practices of different tribes. This has not only helped create a sort of “People’s Biodiversity Register” as envisaged in the Biodiversity Conservation Act, 2002 but also help communities in securing intellectual property rights (IPR).

All efforts under the activity have been using traditional knowledge, practices and innovations and are being maintained accordingly by the kaviraj’s themselves. Besides these, observations on ex-situ conservation aspects of important medicinal plants are also being documented.

Assessment of adaptability and impacts:

The key outcome of the contribution has been creation of a self help group known as the Vaidyaraj Herbal Growers Society (VHGS) of 55 Traditional Healers in Kanchanpur area of Tripura to promote medicinal plant-based traditional health care through establishment of ten herbal gardens at various spots. The members of the society, with some financial and technical support from the CFLE, have collected hundred of rare species of herbs useful in preparing Ayurvedic medicines from far flung areas and are growing them in these gardens.

Some critical outcomes that have been evident as a result of the activity are:

·         conservation of biodiversity,

·        recording of traditional medical practices,

·        preservation of certain key endangered plants,

·       creation of a united group of traditional healers and a uniform platform for recording of traditional knowledge of various tribes.

·       facilitated a replicable model that can be adopted by medicinal practitioners across the state and help secure IPR rights over ayurvedic practices of different tribe viz.Reang, Chakma, Mog and Barua, besides Bengali.

·         Many medicinal plants have been documented and maintained in their herbal gardens under ex-situ conservation.

·         Promotion of local healthcare by use of these medicinal plant parts.

Technical support and financial implications:

This activity is being funded by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) with its budgetary provision under North East Plan. Due to the opportunity created through the participatory approach and its self-sustaining model, only a part of the budget, even less than Rs. 1.50 lakh was sufficient to conduct the activities including field work, interactive meets, documentation, travel and transport, and awareness generation. CFLE and VHGS could create a replicable model which not only conserves the traditional knowledge and rare endangered plants but also promotes biological diversity on private land.

Impact on local tribal communities – Scope and Nature: 

This model has been a boon for health and livelihoods of the communities in the locality. The traditional healers’ community has benefited from the rejuvenation of their customary livelihood practices while the community have benefited from effective health care at affordable costs on their door steps. As a result the vulnerable tribes have also seen an increase in their earnings and reduction in medical expenses. The model has also helped revive Ayurvedic form of medicine which is significant since this form of medicine has negligible side effects and is a totally natural from of treatment.  From the perspective of conservation of biodiversity, the model is playing a significant role in ex-situ conservation of rare species of plants as well as recording of a people’s biodiversity register. This is crucial for helping communities secure their intellectual property rights and record customary practices.

The practitioners are currently practicing Ayurveda in their homes, but are hopeful that in the coming days, they get regular Ayurvedic licenses so that they can open up Centres at various places in Kanchanpur and help people to get better treatment and at the same time earn a better livelihood.

PAWAN K. KAUSHIK

Scientist E,  Regional Director                                                                                                                                       

CENTRE FOR FOREST-BASED LIVELIHOODS & EXTENSION  (CFLE)                                                                                                                                                    

Shal Bagan Forest Campus, P. O. – Gandhigram, Agartala - 799012, Tripura

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