Medicinal Plants constitute an important component of the plant resource spectrum of Kerala. Recent analysis shows that out of estimated 4600 flowering plants in Kerala, about 900 possess medicinal values. Of these, 540 species are reported to occur in forest ecosystems. Over 150 species of plants that are either indigenous or naturalized in Kerala are used in the Indian system of Medicine like Ayurveda and Sidha. The rural folk and tribal communities make use of about 2,000 species of lesser-known wild plants for various medicinal uses. About 60 to 65% of plants required for Ayurvedic medicine and almost 80% of plants used in Sidha medicine are found in the forests of Kerala.
The major medicinal plants obtained from the forests of Kerala are Asparagus racemosus, Solanum anguivi, Desmodium gangeticum, Cissus quadrangularis, Psuedartheria viscida, Strobilanthes ciliatus, Dysoxylum malabaricum, Piper longum, Aristolochia indica, Ceasalpinia bonduc, Tribulus terrestris, Sarcostemma acidum, Baliospermum montanum, Aristolochia bracteolata etc.
The table below gives further details:
MEDICINAL PLANTS IN KERALA
|Botanical Name||Local Name|
|Ruta graveolens||Sathappu, Arootha|
|Trichosanthus cucumerina||Kaipan padavalam|
Only the indigenous people, the Kani tribe, knew of the anti-fatigue properties of the Arogyapacha plant (Trichopus zeylanicus ssp.travancoricus), which they ate during long treks in the hilly Western Ghats region. The Kani tribe is traditionally a nomadic community, who now lead a largely settled life in the forests of the Agasthyamalai hills of the Western Ghats in the Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala. Tribal healers, known as Plathis, have knowledge on the medicinal properties of the flora and fauna of the region, and they passes this knowledge to the next generation orally.
In December 1987, a team of scientists undertook a botanical field survey into the forests of the Western Ghats of southern Kerala. Men from the local Kani tribe accompanied them. The leader, Dr. Pushpangadan, observed that the men ate some fruits which kept them energetic and agile; the team were later offered these fruits during arduous trekking and upon eating, experienced renewed energy and strength. Dr. Pushpangadan asked them about the source of the fruits, and after much persuasion and assurances that the information would not be misused, the Kanis finally showed him the fruits.
Preserving Local Knowledge
Convention on Biological Diversity aims to conserve and use biological diversity in a sustainable manner. It mandates that its signatories respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of local or indigenous communities and encourage the equitable sharing of benefits.
One method that is being used to document the knowledge and skills of local communities related to biological resources is through Community Biodiversity Registers. The register process seeks to document the knowledge of conservation, as well as economic uses of biodiversity resources that rest with India's local communities. This is being developed by local communities in collaboration with high school and college students, and local NGOs. All information accumulated in the register can be used or shared only with the knowledge and consent of the local community. The community, when consenting to the access, can charge fees for access to the register and collection of biological resources. Decisions on how to disburse the funds are to be made through village community meetings. There is concern about the Biodiversity Registers in case the process has the effect of placing knowledge hitherto regarded as secret by communities in the public domain, and that once this is done it would open the way for corporate and research interests to freely access and use the local knowledge about the biodiversity resources
The license to produce jeevani was granted to Arya Vaidya Pharmacy. A regular supply of the leaves of the plant was required. Scientific studies revealed that the medicinal properties of the plant are best manifested in plants growing in the natural habitat.
TBGRI suggested that as only leaves of the plant are needed, several harvests could be made from the perennial plant without actually destroying it. Therefore, in October 1997, a proposal to the Forest Department and Tribal Welfare Department stated that it was willing to pay Kanis seed money for cultivation of the plant, and would subsequently buy leaves harvested from these plants. This was not only a sustainable use of the natural resource, but the sale of leaves would also give the Kanis an extra source of income. TBGRI also assured the state department that no private parties would be involved in cultivation of the plant.
To facilitate this arrangement a pilot scheme for cultivation of the plant was carried out with support from the Integrated Tribal Development Programme (ITDP) in areas surrounding the reserved forests from 1994 to 1996. Under this programme fifty families were given around Rs. 2000 ($40) each for cultivating the plant. TBGRI was to buy five tonnes of these leaves per month from the families and supply them to AVP for production of Jeevani. Through this scheme, roughly half the Kanis secured employment and were trained by TBGRI on various aspects of cultivation and harvesting of Arogyapacha to ensure that the plants are not over-harvested.
This experience has provided insight at multiple levels and is recognised as a world first in - how to commercialise use of natural resources in a sustainable manner; developing a valuable product and sharing benefits in a way that rewards the knowledge of indigenous people. It has been observed that:
- The increase in demand could have led to excessive extraction of the biological resources, if the following measures were not taken:
- Raising awareness among all stakeholders
- Supporting and creating local institutions for sustainable extraction
- Legitimising the property rights of communities over the use of biological resources and associated knowledge where were negotiated and defined at the local level.
- The effective protection of intellectual property is a necessary condition for generation benefits, but it is not a sufficient condition for benefit sharing. Several additional measures are needed to supplement the role of intellectual property rights in benefit sharing over biological resources and traditional knowledge.