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Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge MOST/CIRAN


Raising Awareness - awareness of sustainability issues is added to the knowledge of plants which local people share with each other


In the Himalayas of Uttar Pradesh, the local people use a number of plants as food and medicine. The plants are either collected from the wild or cultivated. The same species are not used in the same ways in the different regions, however. CIKHIR is proposing to invite local people from one region to visit another region so that they can exchange information about the uses of plants as food and medicine. 

The Himalayas are basically divided into two administrative regions: Kumaon, the region where Kumaoni dialect is spoken, and Garhwal, the region where Garhwali dialect is spoken. The same plants grow in both regions, but the uses and the plant names differ. For example, Urtica dioeca (Stinging nettle) in Garhwal is known as "kaldiya" and it is not used for anything, while in Kumaon the plant is known as "shishoona" and it is used by the local people for relieving rheumatic pains. It is either applied topically to the painful joints, or its leaves are eaten like a vegetable. 

Similarly, the people of Kumaon use Glycine soja (Soya bean) in their diet as a pulse, while the people of Garhwal neither cultivate it nor eat it. Soya beans are very rich in protein, on a par with meat, and can help to correct the protein deficiency that results in the disease kwashiorkor. So the people of Garhwal, whenever they visit Kumaon for a fair or social event, are told about the usefulness of this nutritional food and medicine, and are shown how to prepare it. There are many plants, like the black variety of the soya bean, which have been consumed for many generations in various dishes. But people are switching to other foods, unaware of the value of these pulses. Local people are therefore being told about the nutritional value of their own food, and how good it is for their health. 

Efforts to raise awareness regarding the uses to which naturally growing local plants can be put are based on the knowledge that any group of people will be drawn to interesting information about plants growing in their region that they are familiar with. A person may want to report on a plant’s nuisance value, but will wind up learning something about its usefulness. Campaigns to promote awareness begin with the selection of potentially useful plants that are known but unappreciated locally. Exhibitions of these plants and their uses are then held in various meeting places: government community centres, block development offices, tea stalls and village fairs. 

At the same time, attention is being drawn to plants that have commercial potential. Based on a field survey and study of the plants growing in the two regions, the plants which are important to modern society have been chosen for special emphasis. Efforts are directed towards bringing these plants under cultivation or increasing their cultivation in a sustainable way for commercial purposes. In one of the regions, certain plants were already collected from the wild and sold to local manufacturers of pharmaceutical products and perfume, and to the cosmetics industry. Up to now the other region had not possessed this knowledge, but this situation is changing as a result of demonstrations similar to those showing the direct use of plants for food or medicine. 

These demonstrations seem to be the best way to raise awareness and to disseminate knowledge about the uses of plants from one region to other region. 

consciousness-raising; plants; food; food preparation; medicinal plants 

Country: INDIA 
Region: Kumoan Himalayas and Plains of Uttar Pradesh 


The people living in these remote areas are well acquainted with plants growing in the wild which are useful for medicine or food. Their indigenous knowledge enables them to identify the plants and know their uses. But they do not understand that if they go on collecting these from the wild a day will come when the supply of these plants is depleted. And not all of the people know that certain of their local plants have value to urban society--for medicines, perfumes and cosmetics. Their indigenous knowledge therefore needs to be supplemented. Local people need to be made aware of depletion dangers and commercial potential so that they bring the plants under cultivation and thus ensure a sustainable supply for their own uses as well as for selling to buyers in the city. Local people should also be told about the nutritional value of the plants which they cultivate. 


  • Economic sustainability: local people earn extra income 
  • Environmental sustainability: plants which are collected from the wild are saved 
  • Other: cultural practices are retained 

CIKHIR is the non-governmental organization whose volunteers initiated the practice, in which members of the communities also play a key role. The beneficiaries include not only the community members of both sexes whose health and income are improved, but also the city dwellers who can buy the local plant products. 



The main strength of the practice is that local plant species are preserved through cultivation and then put to good use. Local people acquire a sustainable supply for their own use and they earn extra income by selling plants and plant products to the urban people. 


When local people can earn extra income by selling produce, there is a danger that they sell everything and forget their own traditional use of the plants. They must be reminded not to neglect their own physical welfare as well as that of the environment. 


The environment is protected at the same time that both local communities and urban customers are guaranteed a sustainable supply of plants that are used for medicinal or aromatic purposes. 

Success expressed in qualitative or quantitative terms 

The success of this practice cannot be expressed in qualitative and quantitative terms until it has been tried in more places. 


The practice can be replicated as long as certain conditions are met: 

  • The scheme and its benefits must be presented to the local people in their own language by an intelligent extension worker who is able to establish rapport with them. 
  • It must be preceded by a thorough study of the region and a survey of its plants. 
  • The right plants must be selected for emphasis. The soapnut, for example, was a good choice. Local people use it to wash their hair and clothes, and have always collected it from the wild. They are now given soapnut tree seedlings to plant near their huts. They no longer need to collect soapnuts from the forest for their own use, and they have enough left over to to sell to urban manufacturers of shampoo. 
  • A publicity campaign—using small handbills, for example—is useful for promoting awareness. 
As far as the initiators of the practice know, it has not yet been replicated elsewhere. They are optimistic about its potential for replication, however. 


Dr. N.C. Shah 
E-mail: ncshah@hotmail.com (not always available) 


Centre for Indigenous Knowledge of Indian Herbal Resources
MS-78, Sector-D,
Aliganj, Lucknow -226 024
Telephone: +91-522-326489 
Fax: +91-522-326489 
E-mail: iillko@lw1.vsnl.net.in (not always available) 

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