The Ayurvedic medicine industry is critically dependent upon uninterrupted supply of raw herbs. It means that medicinal plants of right quality should be available in right quantity for the sustained growth of Ayurvedic medicine industry. It is a fact that the expanding Ayurvedic industry has had an impact on the raw herb supply position. Arya Vaidya Sala has recognised the importance of the natural resource base and has taken comprehensive steps for strengthening this unique resource base. These steps include cultivation of threatened medicinal plants, promotion of cultivation, supply of seedlings to growers, generation of organic manure, finding new sources of water and supporting efforts for cultivation and trade in medicinal plants.
About 220 acres of land has been developed as medicinal plants estates. Several annual, binnial and perennial herbal species are cultivated there for in-house consumption. In fact, Arya Vaidya Sala is now self sufficient in certain items like Atalotakam, Karinkurinji, Nagadandi and Brahmi. There are about a hundred other medicinal plants which are cultivated for supplementing production needs.
About 5 lakhs of seedlings are produced for distribution amongst potential cultivators. The Green House facilities of the Centre for Medicinal Plants Research are being used for the generation of seedlings and cuttings. A special type of Shashtika rice is cultivated for medicinal applications. Similarly, special COD and MYD varieties of dwarf coconut trees are planted to meet the demand for tender coconut water for medicine preparation. BSRI variety of gooseberry trees are planted for supplementing its supply for medicine manufacture.
The Medicinal Plants Board of Government of India has recognised the efforts of Arya Vaidya Sala in the field of herb cultivation and has extended financial support for strengthening these activities.
The special know-how and skill generated in the field of medicinal plant cultivation are transferred to individual farmers and NGOs through a verity of extension and education programmes. With the involvement of the expertise available with the Centre for Medicinal Plants Research, various extension activities are conducted at Panchayat and District levels.
Another allied activity is the production of high grade organic manure from the solid herbal residue generated in the Factory. Apart from using this manure for captive consumption, it is also being made available at subsidised cost to the cultivators and farmers. New methods of compost production using micro organisms are also planned.
Scarcity of water is a major problem while expanding cultivation activities. Apart from attempting to identify new sub-soil water sources, concerted efforts are made to conserve ground water by setting up ponds and by recycling effluent water discharged from the medicine manufacturing activity.
Initiatives in the Medical Plant Sector
Strengthening the critical resource base of medicinal plant has always been considered an important task by Arya Vaidya Sala. The efforts in this regard have been in five major directions, viz., maintaining of demonstration garden, cultivation in natural estates, undertaking collaborative research, collating and publishing reference material and undertaking extension work.
An important activity has been in the area of collating and compiling information of the character and use of medicinal plants as found in classical and modern texts. This major work has resulted in bringing out a five volume treatise entitled “Indian Medicinal Plants-A Compendium of 500 Species” (Orient Longman, Chennai, 1994-96).
A Demonstration garden is set up in an eight acre plot at Kottakkal. A live collection of 700 scientifically identified medicinal plants, a herbarium and a museum for selected items of correctly identified crude drugs are maintained in this facility. This facility serves as a centre of learning and referencing for professionals, physicians, students, farmers and others. Based on the taxonomic studies made here, several scientific papers and a book entitled “Ayurvedic Drugs and Their Plant Sources (Oxford & IBH, Delhi,1994) have been published. The garden is a favored location of visit for informed visitors as well as laypersons.
Over 200 acres of medicinal plant estates are being maintained at Mannarghat, Kottapupram, Thrikkakara and Kottakkal, where large scale cultivation of rare plant species is organized. These estates also support scientific activities by providing trial cultivation and maintenance of field gene banks.
One of the major research projects, entitled “Medicinal Plants (India) Project”, was undertaken in collaboration with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada. Twenty endangered medicinal plants of the Western Ghats were studied under this project with respect to their pharmacognosy, propagation and distribution. Several scientific papers and a major compilation entitled “Some Important medicinal Plants of the Western Ghats, India – A Profile” came out of this project. IDRC sponsored a project on harvesting, processing and storage of Ayurvedic raw drugs with the aim of evaluating present practices and evolving new procedures. A programme to set up a Germ Plasm Bank of medicinal plants has recently been initiated with the support of the Department of Biotechnology of the Government of India. The major components of this programme are a field gene bank, an in-vitro bank, a seed bank, a digital data base, etc.
Extension work has been planned to ensure availability of genuine herbs. Seeds and seedlings from the estates are distributed at nominal cost to farmers, Organic manure from plant residue is also made available to them at a competitive price. Training programmes are organized for the benefit fo farmers, NGOs, agricultural officers, etc.