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Village Medicinal Commons
- a three year balancesheet
 

The Medicinal Plants Project of DDS supported by Find Your Feet was started in 1996 with the following objectives :

  • To consolidate/expand about 50 ha of village medicinal commons raised on government wastelands (in a few cases on the community-owned balwadi lands) through soil and moisture conservation works, bunding, fencing etc.
  • Through this activity to ensure that the traditional plant and herbal medicinal resources are regenerated in the village to reactivate folk healing practises which are dying out today partly because of the non-availability of the plant/herb resources.
  • To make an ecological contribution to the villages where these lands lie by making them perennial green patches.
  • Through this activity make the women of the DDS sanghams who are the owners and managers of this programme gain a special status in the community and an increased recognition for their new role in the village.

The most significant objective of the project was to help the women

  • Regain control over their traditional healthcare systems which had been lost
    to inefficient, unfriendly and institutionalised medicinal systems established by the government and private business sectors.
  • Revitalise their own knowledge systems which have been eroding over years for want of wider respect and acceptance.
  • Reestablish the status of women as health keepers of the community by making available lost plant resources for their health practice
  • Recover the village commons as a community resource base.
  • Reintroduce the principle of biodiversity by establishing rich plant queen down as community bioreserves.

The programme was intended to be established in 21 villages in an area of 109 acres.

Of the targetted 21 villages and 109 acres, over the past three years, we have been able to work in 18 villages over a spread of 65 acres planting a total number of 33000 plants. In each of these villages, the plant population varies from 500 to 2000. Of the 19552 plants, there has been a survival of 60%. The highest survival rate is recorded by Kothapalli village with 87% and the lowest is Hulgera @ 8.8%. The reason for Hulgera's low survival was a fire accident during the high summer of 1998 which burnt down most of the plants.

The shortfall in actual work done in relation to our plan is as follows:

Villages : 14% shortfall
Acreage : 37% shortfall
Plants : 50% shortfall

  1. Continued drought over the last three years which has played havoc with our plantations and agriculture.
  2. Under these circumstances we did not have enough courage to plant as we planned. Being certain that if planted, the saplings will die under the harsh sun burning mercilessly at 45^ C [113^ F] we did not want to willfully commit mass planticides.
  3. In five villages we did not get a good response and therefore we had to postpone planting and in the process we were not able to access about 30 acres for planting. This amounted to 35% of our proposed planting area.

The following detailed analysis of our work in relation to the original objectives should be seen in this context.


OBJECTIVE 1

The Medicinal Commons would provide a habitat for a large species of plants, creepers, climbers and bushes which have medicinal use and would be accessible to everyone who needs it. This will provide a small neighbourhood forest for the village alongside providing for their medicinal needs.


Current Status

This has actually happened in 18 villages. In spite of recurring drought, the women of DDS sanghams have planted 34876 plants in an area of 65 acres until August 1998. This means nearly 540 plants per acre which exceeds the specified tree population under forest conditions. Besides the plants themselves, about 20000 bushes, hedgeplants, creepers and climbers, all of which have excellent medicinal value have also been planted.

[Please see Annexure 1 for Medicinal Bushes, Creepers & Climbers planted]


OBJECTIVE 2

In the context of the decade old DDS health work it was felt that the vanishing natural resources had hampered the sustainability of the DDS health credo which is based on local plants and herbs. Therefore through this programme the attempt was to raise in each village a medicinal garden planted and owned by the community. It was thought that this will create access to the community for the lost resources and in turn may give a greater fillip for re-acceptance of the herbal medicinal system which for centuries has been the practice in this region.


Current Status

Many experiences coming from the DDS health workers who are also raising the medicinal commons tell us that with their easier access to the herbal and plant sources in their commons, they are finding it easy to treat the sicknesses of the people in their community. Many people in the community are also visiting the plantations themselves to access leaves for simple remedies. Since the plantations are still very young, no part of the plant beyond leaves are being used right now. Once the plantations grow then other parts like bark, roots, fruits, nuts etc will start coming into use.

[Please see Annexure 2 for stories narrated by the herbkeepers of DDS]

OBJECTIVE 3

The main activities planned under the programme, besides new planting, were directed at enabling these plantations to sustain themselves. For this purpose, activities like soil & moisture conservation works, water harvesting measures, fencing, protective irrigation during high summer etc. were planned.

Current Status

All these activities have been carried out in various measures on all the sites.
The following table gives the actual achievement in various activities as against what was originally planned.

Activity
Achievement
1996
1997
1998
Total
Originally proposed
% of achievement over proposal
Ploughing
9
09
46
19.5
Pot Irrigation
42
42
70
60
Mulching
36
36
48
120
103
76.6
Small Pond
11
11
73
15
Contour Trench
28
10
38
26
146
Trenching
12
35
14
61
50
114
Tank Silt Addn.
07
05
12
05
240
Boundary Bund
65
65
90
72
Fencing
32
40
77
41.5
Destoning
24
09
33
33
100
Grass Cutting
24
24

COMMUNITY CONTRIBUTION

The community of DDS women's sanghams has very enthusiastically supported the programme with a generous contribution in terms of labour, sometimes at half the cost and sometimes totally free. The following table gives the details of the Community Contribution to the project:

TABLE

OBJECTIVE 4

The members of DDS women's sanghams who constitute the lowest rung of the economic and social ladder in their village communities will be the first level beneficiaries . They will participate in the entire activity from the design to the implementation stages and understand the implication, environment and otherwise, of the project. Being the implementors of the project will also entitle them to wages which constitutes 90% of the project. As managers of the project which is bound to benefit the entire rural community, the women will also have a greater status in the community. Finally as the most vulnerable section of the community, the availability of health plants and herbs in their neighbourhood will serve a critical part of their healthcare system.

Current Status

The women have participated in the medicinal commons project in various capacities. While the health workers, along with the other functionaries of their sangham like the karyakartas or the sangham committee members have participated in designing their medicinal commons, the entire sangham has participated in carrying out the earthworks, planting and such other activities.

On the issue of actual beneficiaries of the programme, the pattern runs as follows: most users of these plants for medicines are women from DDS sanghams.. Very poor solely depend on it. Those who are a rung higher in the poverty scale, use the local plant medicines in the first instance. If they dont get cured by them, they go to the doctors. Most people do not directly access the medplant sites themselves. They believe that when the recipe comes through the HANDS of the health worker, they get cured fast. This belief in the quality of the hand that administers medicine is very common in rural India. Therefore in most cases, it is the health worker who administers the medicine from her medicinal commons.

The percentage of sangham people who come for these recipes also varies according to the capacity and the personality of the health worker herself. In village Machnoor for eg. not more than 30% come to access the herbs and plants. . In Basantpur 100% of the sangham members come to the health worker for these recipes. By and large a majority ranging from 70-80% or sangham women have been accessing the newly generated plant resources.

The plants frequently used by people in Basantpur include leaves of Peddagurja, Danimma, Gutguta, Kukudu, Pulayili, Pulapatram, Gollajiddi and Munaga and bark and nuts of Medi and Murki Tumma. Similarly in Kalmela village people have started using from the Commons, Gutguta, Nallatummakaya, Kaliyapa, Danimma, Gollajiddi, Konengalam and Vempali leaves and roots. In village Hulgera, people have begun to use Oma, Sunnapu Kaya, Tippa Teega etc from the Commons.

OBJECTIVE 5

The second level beneficiaries will be the entire village community who will automatically have access to the plants. A majority of them still depend on home remedies for simple ailments and hence would need the leaves, bark, flowers and nuts of many of these trees for the purpose. That the entire village uses these herbs and plants will increase the status of the DDS sangham women in general and the Health Workers in particular within their village community.

Current Status

In many villages like Basantpur and Raikode, people outside the sanghams have also started approaching the village health worker for plant medicines. They include high caste men for whom these women meant nothing once. In many cases villagers from long distances also come and take the medicines from the health workers. Invariably some components of these medicines are the leaves from the medicinals commons.

The medicinal commons have decidedly brought a new status to the health workers in particular and the entire community of the women in the sanghams in general. The fact that the health workers administer such a range of medicines to all the villagers and that the sangham women have made it possible has considerably increased their status in the village community.

However the process is not widely in practice as yet. The plantations being very young are not yet ready for use by a very wide section of population. Such wider use will destabilise the sustainability of the plantations. Therefore for this process to start it will probably take five more years when the plantations become strong and widely usable without affecting their sustainability.

OBJECTIVE 6

Finally the village-based barefoot healthworkers of DDS sanghams will benefit a lot from the medicinal commons. For many of their health recipes they find it difficult to access the needed ingredients. Once the medicinal commons are in position, their work becomes so much more easier.

Current Status

The beginning of this process is being gradually seen. Many healthworkers are using leaf part of the plants for their medicinal recipes. This use is over a wide variety of plants like pomegranate, addatoda vasica, touch me not etc. But the use of barks, fruits and nuts will take place after next five years.