A programme to promote cultivation of medicinally important tree species in 500 farm households has been launched by the Kochi-based Peekay Tree Crops Development Foundation in Vayalar panchayat limits.

The project is being implemented with aid from the United Nations Development Programme.

The target is to plant and nurture 12,000 saplings as intercrops in coconut holdings over 30 months to cover an area of about 75 hectares.

Nearly 10,000 saplings had been planted by September 2005, says P.K. Thampan, president of the foundation.

Source of herbs

The project site will emerge as a major source of genuine medicinal plants.

This is expected to cater to the increasing demand from Ayurvedic medicine manufacturers. When the trees reach the productive phase, it will benefit 500 families engaged in the cultivation.

Benefit for environment

This apart, the trees will reduce the carbon content in the air considerably during their growth process, thus protecting the environment.

The foundation has been organising community-based organisations for addressing the needs and aspirations of the rural community.

Community development

An organisation was formed in Vayalar panchayat area as part of an Asian Development Bank (ADB)-funded project.

Over 1,000 economically poor families are members of the Vayalar Community Development Centre.

The foundation extends training support to community members in income generating technologies. Micro-credit facility is also extended for strengthening the existing activities or for exploring better opportunities.

Training programmes in farming, food processing and coconut-based handicrafts have been organised.

Community participation

The members of the development centre have realised the significance of community participation in the spheres of plan formulation and programme implementation, says Mr. Thampan. An elected committee manages the affairs of the community.

The foundation executes programmes with the cooperation of the panchayat, Krishi Bhavan and other local organisations.

Among the organisations brought under the ADB-funded coconut project by different agencies in eight countries, the Vayalar project was adjudged the best, he says.

The foundation has been evolving programmes for empowering women.

Working women

In the project area taken up by the foundation, 80 per cent of the workforce in the coir sector is made up of women.

They had been exposed to unhygienic and hazardous working conditions.

The foundation took steps to replace traditional hand spinning wheels with motorised ones. Twenty pairs of such spinning wheels have been distributed and 125 more families are being covered under a new project.