Cultivation of Arogyapacha to be taken up

Oushadhi, a public sector company manufacturing Ayurvedic products, is set to join hands with the Forest Department, the Kani tribal community, and the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI) in a unique partnership for commercial production of a herbal drug known for its immunity-enhancing, anti-stress, liver protective, and anti-fatigue properties.

Developed by scientists at the JNTBGRI using the traditional knowledge of the Kani tribe, the compound drug named Jeevani had registered its presence in the global market since its launch in 1995.

The basic ingredient in the drug is Tricopus zeylanicus , a medicinal herb locally known as Arogyapacha. R.R. Shukla, Managing Director, Oushadhi, told The Hindu that the project would involve backward linkage with the Kani tribal people to ensure a steady supply of raw material.

Mr. Shukla, an IFS officer, said the tribal people would be supported by the Forest Department to take up commercial cultivation of the plant and primary processing of the harvest.

The participatory model, he said, would eliminate the scope for disruption of supplies, a problem that had dogged the previous manufacturer throughout the licence period.

Mr. Shukla said a buy-back agreement would be worked out with Forest Eco Development Committees to ensure that the tribal people who had initially imparted knowledge about the plant were benefited.

Miracle plant

It was in 1987 that scientists at the JNTBGRI stumbled upon the miracle plant during a scientific expedition to the remote Agasthyar hills. In a project spanning eight years, the researchers isolated compounds from the herb and developed a composite drug.

In September 1995, the JNTBGRI entered into a technology transfer pact with the Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, Coimbatore, for manufacture of the drug. It also evolved a mechanism to share 50 per cent of the commercial benefits of the project with the Kani tribe. The money was used to assist development activities in tribal settlements.

In 2002, the initiative was recognised by the U.N. Environment Programme and the World Trade Organisation as a global model in benefit-sharing and recognition of intellectual property rights of tribal people.

The same year, the partnership won the UN Equator Initiative Award at the Earth Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Initially, the tribal people harvested the herb from the forests around the Agastya Peak, leading to depletion of the plant.

Though a few tribal families started cultivating the plant around their settlements, they could not sell the produce because it was seized at the forest check-posts, recalls S. Rajasekharan, former Head, Division of Ethnomedicine, JNTBGRI, who was involved in the development of the drug.

The Arya Vaidya Pharmacy withdrew from the deal in 2008 after encountering a series of problems relating to raw material procurement. In the meantime, the Kerala Kani Welfare Trust set up to manage the funds was accused of financial mismanagement and bias.

“To prevent a conflict between tribal people and Forest officials, we will ensure that forestland is not used for cultivation,” Mr. Shukla said.

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