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Empowering the Community: Wealth for All

Number 17 - December 1998

P. Pushpangadan


The role of botanic gardens in the popularisation of science and environmental education is well recognised. Botanic gardens can play a major role in educating people on the sustainable utilisation of the local biodiversity particularly in the areas of health care and income generation. Success stories of programmes and experiments that can be emulated in this line are rare especially for the botanic gardens in developing countries. During the past four years, the Tropical Botanic Gardens and Research Institute has developed two action programmes; ‘Herbs for All and Health for All’ and ‘Plants for All and Wealth for All’ as part of its outreach programme. These programmes were designed to develop the productive potential of the under-utilised floristic wealth of the nation, and actively involve community members including the educated, unemployed youth and home makers.


A healthy population is the real wealth of a nation and it is the collective responsibility of individuals, families and governments to ensure the community’s health security. Food security for people is the basic requirement to their health security. People should get an adequate quantity of nutritious food, clean and safe drinking water and pure air to breathe. The TBGRI educational programme addresses this central theme and has launched various action oriented programmes to aim towards conservation and the sustainable utilisation of biodiversity.

Prior to launching the programmes, background information on the socio-economic and resource profile of the villages was obtained. This provided information to enable effective evaluation of the program to take place. The data collected included information on the:

  • bio resource of the region and their utilisation pattern
  • social organisation of the villages
  • socio-economic and techno-economic capabilities of the villages
  • health profile of the villagers and the status of health management in the villages.

Following this assessment four traditional villages from the Thiruvananthanpuram District, Njaraneeli; Bharathannoor; Pampuchathamannu; and Panangode, were selected to be involved. The villages are situated within a 20km radius of TBGRI and the majority (80%) of people belong to farming communities owning small pieces of land (0.1 - 0.5ha) and cultivating rubber, paddy, pepper and tapioca.

The villages mostly consist of Christian, Muslim and Hindu groups, the majority of whom are literate.

Developing the Approach – Stage 1

A team of TBGRI scientists comprising of botanists, Ayurvedic experts and sociologists visited the villages and met several influential people i.e. the President and members of the Panchayat (village council), school teachers, office-bearers of art and sports clubs and other non government representatives. During the visit, the TBGRI proposed action plan was discussed.

Encouraged by their positive response, TBGRI initially organised an exhibition and a series of seminars in the villages and then invited the 25-30 representatives from each village to TBGRI for a two day awareness programme.

On the first day of the programme, scientists gave lectures on:

  • rich biological resources
  • agro –biodiversity
  • wild bio-resources
  • conservation and sustainable productive use of bio-resources and value addition
  • ecologically sound and economically sustainable utilisation strategies,
  • the importance of traditional diets
  • the qualitative superiority of local fruit and vegetables
  • the issues involved with the disappearance of home gardens
  • the harmful effects and problems associated with monoculture practices throughout the country.

The second day involved a tour of the garden. The aim of this being to increase the villagers’ understanding of locally available medicinal plants from the common village lands, sacred groves and nearby forests. The villagers were encouraged to collect wild material from the common village lands and the garden according to their needs and medicinal and indigenous plant use were highlighted during the tour.

The tour included a visit to the demonstration garden where a model for community management of bioresources and a home garden have been developed.

Participants were pleased to learn how to take care of their nutritional and primary health care needs using plants.

The model home garden is 200m sq  with a three room thatched hut centrally located. A well has been placed in one corner, a medicinal and ornamental plant garden in the front courtyard, and the vegetable garden at the rear. The medicinal plant garden contains 17 selected plants iincluding Hibiscus, Centella asiatica, Aloe, Ocimum, Coleus, Asparagus and Adhatoda. The vegetable garden plants include muringa, papaya, Solanum, Amaranthus, Colocasia, yam, Capsicum, pepper, ginger, mango, and jackfruit.

After the two day awareness programme the village representatives were requested to select a core group of 10-15 persons from each village. It was highlighted that this was a self help programme aimed at empowering people to take the best care of their food, nutrition, hygiene and health. A key component of the programme was to encourage people to explore more productive ways of utilising their local resources by applying science and technology with a view to gaining economic prosperity by using the local biodiversity.

Training the Trainers - Stage 2

The villagers returned to their villages, organised meetings and selected the core group for an intensive one week residential training course at TBGRI. The core group consisted of ten people, mainly women (32 women and 8 men), from four villages. The training was conducted in two phases, the first phase emphasised primary health care, while the second focused on conservation and sustainable utilisation of the plant biodiversity.

The topics addressed during lectures were:

  • general awareness of the functioning of the human body
  • public health, diet, nutrition and hygiene
  • local flora and identification of medicinal plants, wild vegetables and fruits
  • preventative, promotive and curative properties of medicinal plants
  • a demonstration and practical training on the preparation of compound for treating common ailments
  • the cultivation and sustainable utilisation of plants having medicinal and nutritional values.

Demonstration and practical training in the preparation of compound drugs was provided. This involved members of the core group collecting plants from TBGRI and preparing and processing the home remedies. The drugs were designed for use as home remedies for cuts, wounds, burns, sprains, dislocation, diarrhoea, flatulence, intestinal colic, indigestion and anorexia.

The practical information provided to the core group included:

  • a list of plants that could be conserved and cultivated in the village and homestead
  • the cultivation of medicinal and wild edible fruit bearing plants for the purpose of the household and small scale cultivation to generate income
  • training in the cultivation and grafting of fruit trees
  • growing multiple species representing the diversity in the canopy level of the nearby forest.

At the end of the training, group members were given seedlings of medicinal plants, and lesser known edible fruit and vegetables for cultivation in their own gardens.

Empowering the Villages – Stage 3

The real success of this type of programme depends on the effective dissemination of information throughout the community and the total participation of the people involved.

The third stage of the programme was implemented after the core group members returned to their villages. This last stage involved the members adopting twenty families in their locality and training them. The TBGRI scientists were available to provide technical guidance and supply plant materials for the home gardens.

The training programme emphasised the need for self reliance in the primary health care of the family members. The participatory families collectively mobilised funds and herbs for preparation of the home remedies. Each group prepared the home remedies under the guidance of the core group member and TBGRI scientists.

The Story of Success

Encouraged by the success of the trial programme (1994-96) TBGRI received several requests from adjoining villages for an extension of this programme in their areas. After preliminary analysis of the socio-economic data of the villages, four more traditional villages became involved in the programme during 1996-98). When the programme was initiated in these newly adopted villages 800 families benefited.

During the course of this training, TBRGI produced several brochures, fliers and books in the local language for the benefit of the trainers and trainees. The topics addressed included primary health care, commonly cultivated medicinal and aromatic plants, and wild edible fruit and vegetables. The programme was highly regarded by several international bodies, and the World Bank appointed a team of people to document the entire programme to be used in other developing countries.