Medicinal herbs replace cannabis growing in Himachal

May 11th, 2011 - 12:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Mandi (Himachal Pradesh), May 11 (IANS) Once notorious for cannabis cultivation, the hills of Mandi in Himachal Pradesh are now witnessing a welcome change - acres devoted to high-value medicinal herbs.

The harbingers of the silent revolution in the interiors of this Himachal Pradesh district are a women’s group motivated by a Shimla-based NGO, Himalayan Research Group (HRG), to grow herbs like chirayita and kataki.

“Finally, we achieved success in commercial production of chirayita or swertia in the fields in the Gohar block of Mandi,” HRG director Lal Singh told IANS.

He said 319 farmers have planted chirayita on over 70 hectares and it was the largest plantation of this medicinal plant in the state.

Last week, the farmers jointly marketed 2,500 kg of dried chirayita to a private firm, Dabur India Ltd of Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh.

“Earlier, chirayita was extracted from the wild only. Since it’s the native species of the Himalayas, its cultivation was promoted. For the first time it was grown commercially on such a large tract by involving over 1,500 women,” he said.

The National Medicinal Plants Board in New Delhi has supported the NGO for the spread of chirayita through organised women’s groups.

According to forest department officials, the famers were convinced that chirayita cultivation is more profitable.

Chief forest conservator G.S. Goraya said the farmers earned over Rs.700,000 by selling the produce to Dabur at a pre-negotiated rate of Rs.288 per kg.

He said most of the farmers who have adopted its cultivation were earlier involved in traditional crops, mainly cannabis.

“The forest department has started simplifying the forest transit rules for cultivated medicinal plants. At present, the department is charging Rs.7 a kg as permit fee,” Goraya said.

Dubbed a miracle herb, chirayita is said to contain anti-diabetic properties. It’s also considered a blood purifier, a liver tonic, and helps in controlling fever.

The award-winning NGO working for women empowerment launched the community-driven plantation scheme in 2004 by involving a handful of farmers. In 2006, a few medicinal companies evinced interest in buying the produce.

“In 2009, 319 farmers were motivated to go for chirayita cultivation. They were provided seeds. The first crop was harvested in October 2010, almost 18 months after its plantation,” Lal Singh said.

“After the cultivation, negotiations were on with pharmaceutical companies. Finally, Dabur agreed to buy the first lot. It will buy other stock too,” he said.

Farmer Veena Devi said: “Now we will go for a major plantation of chirayita as it’s quite remunerative. Moreover, the cannabis cultivation is always lurking with dangers.”

“It’s just a small beginning. More farmers would be roped in to adopt high value medicinal plants like ‘chirayita’ for their self-reliance rather than depending upon cannabis,” Lal Singh added.

Forest officials said 15 medicinal herbs, including chirayita, are in demand by the pharmaceutical industry - for more than 100 tonnes a year.

“We are promoting chirayita along with cultivation of normal cash crops of peas and potatoes. It’s being grown on scattered patches where the cultivation of normal crops is not economically viable. Wild animal menace is one of the reasons,” Lal Singh said.

The NGO is also promoting the cultivation of another profitable herb ‘kataki’ or picroshiza kurroal.

The state government has already signed a contract with Patanjali Yogpeeth of yoga guru Ramdev for purchase of medicinal plants directly from the farmers.

The state has assessed threat status of 57 medicinal plants and an action plan for species-specific conservation is being worked out.

The government is encouraging cultivation of medicinal plants by raising a nursery of 1.75 million plants.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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