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Medicinal Plants Conservation in Tamilnadu

Tamilnadu cherishes rich ethno-botanical knowledge about medicinal plant from ancient times. Siddha system of medicine is one of the oldest in the world. In recent times the demand for medicinal plants and products has grown manifold. More demand is felt in export sector.

Forests are the storehouse of many rare and valuable herbs. Unfortunately due to unscientific harvesting methods and over exploitation many valuable herbs have vanished.  Many species are on the threshold of extinction.

Tamilnadu Forest Department as a custodian of Forests in the State has taken several measures to conserve and develop medicinal plants. Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health and Traditions (FRLHT), a Bangalore based institution of national repute is actively collaborating in conservation and development of medicinal plants in the State in a big way. Several innovative efforts have been taken and according to FRLHT, Tamilnadu is in the forefront of medicinal plant conservation among Southern States. Tamilnadu Forest Department and FRLHT (through DANIDA aided project) have developed two models for conservation and development of medicinal plants viz., Medicinal Plants Conservation Area (MPCA) and Medicinal Plants Development Area (MPDA). Of these, MPCAs have been developed from 1993-94 onwards.

MPCA Model:
MPCAs are reserve forest sites of high bio diversity value and known for their medicinal plant diversity. In these areas, presence of endangered species are identified and conserved. MPCAs are “no harvest area” mainly intended to be “insitu” gene bank. They serve as research sites and source of planting materials.
There are 12 MPCAs in Tamilnadu in the following places:
  • Azhagarkoil, Dindigul Division
  • Kodaikanal, Kodaikanal Division
  • Kodikarai, WLW Nagapattinam
  • Kolli Hills, Salem
  • Kurumbaram, Villupuram
  • Courtallam, Tirunelveli
  • Mundanthurai, Deputy Director, Project Tiger, Ambasamudram
  • Pechipparai, Kanyakumari
  • Thanipparai, WLW, Srivillputhur
  • Thenmalai, Tirupattur
  • Topslip, Pollachi
  • Nambikovil, Deputy Director, Project Tiger, Ambasamudram
MPDA Model:
MPDAs aim at eco restoration of degraded forests by raising native medicinal plant species with community participation and benefit sharing by sustainable harvest through Joint Forest Management initiatives. Here local Forest Division, and local community assisted by an NGO are involved in development of medicinal plant cultivation. There are eight MPDAs Tamilnadu. They are:
  • Manivizhundan, Attur
  • Thandarai, Chengalpattu
  • Madrudhamalai, Coimbatore.
  • Thoppur, Dharmapuri.
  • Doddabetta, Nilgiris North.
  • Poochampatti, Madurai.
  • Manivizhundan, Salem.
  • Arkattankudisi, SF Vellore.
 MPDAs in Doddabetta in Nilgiris District and Thandarai in Kancheepuram Districts have made rapid progress in development of medicinal plants.
Tamilnadu Afforestation Project has developed a Joint Forest Management based MPDA model for medicinal plant conservation with the technical and financial support from FRLHT. Of the above eight sites excepting Doddabetta and Thandarai MPDA, other six MPDAs have been formed in TAP areas with the involvement of local community. Degraded forests adjoining these villages have been planted with medicinal plants based on climatic and locality factors. Besides this, local communities have also raised nurseries, Kitchen Herbal Gardens. The Self Help Groups are also involved in growing medicinal plants as income generation activity.
Thandarai MPDA:
This is located in Nemili RF over an area of 5 ha. in Kancheepuram District. Thandarai village is located 10 Kms. away from Chengalpattu on Mahabalipuram road. Mainly Irula Tribal women under the banner of committed NGO called Tribal Women Welfare Society (TWWS) are actively involved. The Irula tribes possess valuable ethno-botanical knowledge in medicinal plants.
Medicinal plants of high value like Aloe vera, Hemidesmus indicus, Lawsonia inermis, Adhatoda vasica, Vycova indica, Centella asiatica, Tinospora cordifolia, Andrographis paniculata, etc. have been raised. Necessary infrastructures have been created for irrigating the plants. Local Management Committee (LMC) is actively involved and the tribal women have raised community nurseries with full financial and technical support from Forest Department and FRLHT. The area has shown visible improvement in regeneration. The site is serving as a good demonstration plot and gene bank for seeds and propagules.
Doddabetta MPDA:
This MPDA has been established in Doddabetta in Nilgiris District. This site was taken over from the erstwhile Cinchona Department. Tamil Nadu Forest Department has converted this area into a MPDA in collaboration with DANIDA assisted MPDA Project of FRLHT. A leading NGO namely Health of People and Environment (HOPE) is actively involved in mobilizing the local community. After taking over by Forest Department the abandoned Geranium, Rosemary, Thyme, Citronella, Gaultheria and other herbal crops were restored and re-established and they were brought back into production. A nursery has also been established with facility for composting, vermi culture etc. A steam distillation unit has been established to produce Eucalyptus oil, which is widely sold in Doddabetta and Ooty. Medicinal plants endemic to high altitude region have been preserved and conserved here. This MPDA is also a center for training in Bio-dynamics, composting, vermi culture etc. Women Self Help Groups also trained here. Environmental awareness camps are also organized here for Schools and Colleges.
This MPDA has been established over an area of 25 hectares of revenue land adjoining Thandarai MPDA. 25 commercially and ecologically important medicinal plants species like Decalepis hamiltonii, Acorus callamus, Gymnema sylvestre, Alpinia galanga, Ocimum gratissimum, etc. have been raised. Tree species of medicinal value have also been raised. The Irula tribes under the ages of ITWWS are actively engaged through Local Management Committee. An NGO by name Centre for Traditional Medicine and Research (CTMR) is providing techno-commercial inputs. Necessary infrastructures like live fencing, pipelines, open well, motor pump, etc. have been provided. This MPDA is able to sell Medicinal Plant seedlings worth Rs.30,000/- to the public and institutions.
In order to encourage medicinal plant cultivation in private lands 100 farmers in Tamilnadu Afforestation Project villages were given a subsidy of Rs.5000/- raise medicinal plant gardens of one acre. A buy back arrangement with TAMPCOL (A Tamilnadu Government undertaking) has also been provided for easy marketing of the produce. The farmers have raised valuable plants like Tylophora asthmatica, Alpinia specoisa, Aegle marmelos, Adathoda visica, etc. which are commercially viable.
Many enterprising farmers in Tiruvannamalai, Vellore and Changalpattu districts have cultivated medicinal plants like Bacopa monnerii, Indigofera tintoria, Phylanthus amarus, Coleus forskhii, etc. which are commercially and economically profitable.
Tamil Nadu is in the forefront of medicinal plant conservation and development among the southern states. Tamilnadu Forest Department is closely coordinating with FRLHT and frequently conducting review of the action taken in this direction. A nodal officer in the rank of Chief Conservator of Forests has been nominated. At present the Chief Conservator of Forests (TAP) is coordinating and monitoring MPCA and MPDA activities in the State. Efforts are being taken to extend the program in more forest and non forest areas and private lands in order to make Indian medicine system easily accessible to the rural poor who are mainly depending on the local and traditional medical practitioners as they live in remote villages with no access to modern medical facilities besides increasing the availability of medicinal plants for domestic and export markets.
The Tamil Nadu Forest Department takes pride in mentioning here that following the initiatives taken up with active collaboration with FRLHT in the implementation of Medicinal Plants Conservation Programme, it has been internationally adjudged as one of the best and been awarded Equatorial Award which is instituted under United Nations initiative. Nominations from 77 equatorial countries were evaluated for this award. Five southern States including Tamil Nadu have been awarded 30,000 US dollars Equatorial Award. The share of the award for Tamil Nadu State is Rs.2,89,000. In order to celebrate this happy occasion, it was proposed to conduct free Siddha Medical Campaign to benefit 1107 TAP villages in 26 districts from 16th to 31st December 2002. The campaigns were successfully conducted in all the districts of Tamil Nadu in a befitting manner fully utilizing the cooperation of Anna Institute for Indian Medicinal System, Tamil Nadu / active NGOs / Voluntary Organizations, etc. The tireless initiatives being taken by State Forest Department in collaboration with FRLHT have no doubt created a sense of awareness among the public particularly school children on the values of medicinal plants of our ancient heritage.
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