Fr. Lancy D’Cruz, while pursing the research in Ethno botany came in contact with the Vasavas adivasis. Despite living in areas rich in biodiversity, these tribals were living below the poverty line. Deeply impressed by the fact that these tribals have both - the plants, and the knowledge about the plants, he thought of innovative ideas to help the tribals generate income from these resources. This was done through a project that the Xavier Research Foundation carried out along with the Adivasi Samajik Kendra, Dediapada titled “People –forest-laboratory linkages for conservation of ethno botanical biodiversity”
On completion of this project Fr Lancy D’Cruz joined hands with JEEVAN TIRTH AND MANTHAN EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMME SOCIETY, INDIA and the team. They together designed a project which was forwarded to an NGO, ALBOAN. The aim was to promote the socio-economic development of the Vasavas and to protect their traditional knowledge of medicinal plants. Several ideas were exchanged among the partner NGOs who are experts in the field of education, research, training, etc in order to help the Vasavas.
Who are these people?
The Shoolapaneshwar forests in south Gujarat are remnants of some of the finest forests in the Gujarat. The Dediapada forests are part of the Shoolpaneshwar wildlife sanctuary and home to a variety of natural resources and a diversity of flora and fauna.
The Vasava tribals who inhabit the Shoolpaneshwar wildlife sanctuary form a prominent part of the diverse ethnic groups and a homogenous group with their own leadership, law and custom. They possess immense knowledge about these medicinal plants.
The adivasis are completely dependent on agriculture, which is their primary occupation. They cultivate rice and tuvar mainly for self consumption. They sometimes collect small quantities of medicinal plants from the forest for their own use. They are able to take only one crop a year due to limited water supply. This was not enough to satisfy the needs of the entire family. Hence the tribals had to migrate for work. Most of them end up cutting sugar cane or bamboo for the local factory at very low wages. This migration plays a crucial role in damaging their socio-economic fabric.
Hence, the initial focus of the project was a community-based approach to medicinal plant cultivation focusing on improvement of land quality, water management, and good agricultural practices. In the beginning local tribals were contacted. Being very shy and introverted, the tribals were difficult to convince, but once they understood the potential of the project they were willing to be part of it.
The project was implemented in three phases.
- Market study on medicinal plants, an irrigation system study and capacity building trainings.
-Improving their farm lands, at initiating organic cultivation, and at deepening their commercial, administrative, management and marketing skills
-The group will set up and run a united organization dealing with cultivating, processing and marketing of the products.
What kind of set up do they have?
During the initial stage the tribals used to sell their products only to a limited range of people in their surrounding areas. After getting to know about the extensive business opportunities outside, the groups were encouraged to go outside their areas to market and sell their products.
Earlier they would sell the products without any specific packaging. The group felt the need to customize the appearance of the package so that it could enter the larger (market) and be easily identified by the customers. This would help them have their own identity. For all this formalities they needed to be aware about the legal documentations and procedures. Tribals, unaware about this procedure were made aware about this process. This has helped them to deal with future legal procedures.
The group has also been able to set up a small ‘office’ at a prominent place in a shopping complex in Dediapada. It is already being managed by three of the group members under the supervision of the local co-coordinator. The center is the base of all the activities. The Center has utilities like computer tables, computer chairs, racks, plastic chairs, steel cupboards etc. The methods used by the tribals for formulating the end products were old and time consuming. The office made a decision to invest in equipments for processing - for drying and for grinding the materials.
For the regular maintenance of the center, the concept of saving was introduced to the Vasavas. They were taken for a bank visit, to help them understand the banking system. The concept of savings was highly encouraged. The group members together made a pact to save one rupee a day which amounts to thirty rupees a month. This money was collected at the center and together was deposited in a common bank account. The accumulated money was used to give loans to the members at nominal interest rates. This financial support helped them to resolve issues related to work and family. The loans offered to the members were very liberal and flexible. Installments were set according to the capacity of the member to repay. The money saved in the common bank account acted as a security in times of emergency.
Each member was given a passbook in which they kept record of the money they deposit every month. They also kept a record of all the goods in the center. Separate journals help in identifying and tracking the records of the goods. It helps in building the future steps for the group. The members are now trained to run and manage the organization as well as benefit from it.
How and where are they selling today?
The group has managed to participate in several exhibitions and fairs outside Dediapada. They participated in the traditional Food Festival event “bhuli bhulai vanngi” held at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmadabad; at this event the group earned some income and were also awarded with a special prize for its Brahmi products.
The ‘Aadi Aushadi’ group displayed their traditional food called ‘Manda’ made from rice flour. The method of preparing food was traditional. They used wooden sticks to make innovative forms of the ‘Manda’, which were cooked and steamed in ‘khakra’ leaves. Along with Manda they prepared their local ‘subji’. The food was cooked in front of the visitors the tribals got compliments for their preparation.
Many such events like the fairs at Korvi, the ‘Krishi fair’ at Dediapada and the ‘Krishi fair’ at Sagbara involved in a great deal of planning. Initially the local coordinator was always there to support them at each event. But now the group members plan for the events themselves. They use innovative ways to attract visitors -- use of a punch liner, mock plays, etc. These occasions gave them practical opportunities to display the knowledge which they had gathered during the workshops and meetings.
The group has also represented the District Rural Development Agency (D.R.D.A) at fairs in Jamnagar and in Ahmadabad. It has helped the group to get publicity and many people from different parts of Gujarat have tried to contact them.
Today, thanks to the team effort, they are able to prepare a variety of products. These products help in curing many common diseases. To name a few, medicines for acidity, arthritis, diabetes, kidney stone, general sickness, jaundice, cough and cold, loose motions, etc.
The group has also experimented with various products of Amla, hair oil, massage oil, tea powder and Chavanprash. All these products have been marketed in Ahmadabad. Usages of local plants like ‘Khati bhindi’ for jam, sharbat and drink concentrate have also been successfully tried.
The groups have started a small Nursery for multiplying medicinal plants. Initially they used to grow few medicinal plants. Increasing interest in growing medicinal plants has encouraged the group to increase the production of these plants. This has helped in increasing the sale of the medicinal plants.
For the future progress of the group, they have decided to train ten selected members as master trainers for training new members. They are also trying to create awareness about the group by a documentary on the group activities. A web page will also be set up to increase the scope of the group’s business.