It’s not every day that you get to hear something good and positive from North East India – an underdeveloped region where dozens of armed insurgent groups are fighting the government, demanding separate states. Today, however, is an exception because, I just learned of something that is worth a thousand smiles: the government of Tripura, the smallest state in the region, has decided to encourage cultivation of medicinal plants and rare herbs among locals.
“If successfully implemented, the new plan would boost the economy of the state,” says a press statement by Tripura Forest Development and Plantation Corporation (TFDPC). According to the statement, TFDPC would begin by giving financial and technical support to the locals for cultivating Kalmegh (Andrigraphis Paniculata) and Shatamuli (Asparagus Recemosus Wild).
|Shatamuli or Asparagus Recemosus Wild, a herb used to revitalize female reproductive organs, cure gastrointestinal disorders and as an external wash for wounds.|
India has, of late, seen great growth in its herbal industry. According to the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the herbal industry is currently worth INR 7,500,crore (approx $2 billion) and set to reach Rs.15,000 crore (approx $4 billion) by 2015. The growth has increased the demand of herbs and medicinal plants manifold. For example, a kg of Shatamuli seeds now fetches about INR 4,000 in the market.
It’s no wonder then, that Tripura - where the economy is currently in the doldrums - would notice this growing demand of herbs. Severely cash-strapped, the state recently halted all its development schemes and is now waiting for a bailout package of INR 14,600 crore (approx $4 billion) from the central government in New Delhi.
The state, however, has at least 200 species of medicinal plants and herbs and also great traditional knowledge of their use among locals.
I grew up in this state and have been using the herbs since I was a child. Once, when I had mumps, my mother applied a coat of wax from an Amaltas pod. It cured me in 2 days. On another occasion, I had severe dysentery, and recovered by drinking juice extracted of Land Lotus leaves.
But, we never knew that the same plants could also fetch us money.
|The Land Lotus|
Our village in Tripura’s Kailashahar district is a symbol of what the rest of the region is like: beautiful, but impoverished. Our rice fields are rain-fed and produce only one crop a year. Marginal farmers, we need more resources to survive and having no other options, many of us have resorted to making hooch and smuggling cattle across Bangladesh border - barely 4 km away. Migration is rampant and in past one decade alone, several families – including mine – have left the village for a better life. With their departure, the village gardens, unattended, have become patches of weeds.
For past 5 years, I have been visiting my village, trying to re-grow the herbs in our garden: Brahmi (Centella Asiatica), Sawtooth, Kalmegh, Shatamuli, Basak (Justicia Adhatoda) and many more. Recently, I have also started a blog called whisperinggreens.blogspot.com where I share our traditional knowledge of the herbs and medicinal plants and encourage the readers to use and conserve them.
|Healing greens in my garden: Brahmi - a herb used in cardiac, nerve and brain tonics and Sawtooth - aromatic herb used in cooking for digestive properties|
The plan of TFDPC to promote herbs cultivation has, therefore, great significance for me and my community. It means, we can get loans to grow the herbs, the medicinal plants and sell them directly to the government at market price. But above all else, our villagers can finally quit making hooch or smuggling cattle and earn a living in a healthier way: growing the healing greens.