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  A model to fight bio-piracy

United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], has just awarded Dr P Pushpangadan , Director of the National Botanical Research Institute [NBRI], the Equator Initiative Award for 2002. The recognition of his work to sustainably develop India’s forest produce in association with resident tribal population will provoke widespread adoption of his development model—and that bodes well for India’s environment.

Between wrecking forest wealth for thoughtless profits and pauperization of tribal life and income resources, India’s forests are today a threatened asset. GoodNewsIndia touched on some of the problems in an earlier story and briefly mentioned the Kani tribe of Kerala. Here are more details.

In 1987 Dr P Pushpangadan was trekking the Kerala forests. When his energies flagged, his Kani escorts gave him a drink made from forest fruits. He was at once refreshed. Kanis --as honourable as tribals are when left to themselves-- were reluctant to share their information. Dr Pushpangadan assured them that both their and their forest’s interests would be safe-guarded.

So began a joint venture between the Kanis and the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute[TBGRI], Tiruvananthapuram, nominated by Pushpangadan as Kanis’ partner. UNDP says, “scientific investigations (phytochemical and ethnopharmacology) on the plant… revealed that the plant contained various glycolipids and non-steroidal compounds with profound adaptogenic and immuno- enhancing properties.”

After seven years of research, Kanis and TBGRI had a product, ‘Jeevani’ for licensing. Arogyapacha --the wonder fruit-- is one of the ingredients. In 1996 Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, Coimbatore agreed to pay $50,000 as license and a royalty of 2% on the sale price. Kanis and TBGRI were to share it 1:1.

To channelise the returns among the 16,000 widely dispersed Kanis, the Kerala Kani Samudaya Kshema Trust has been formed and given the first tranche of $10,000 as its share. The Trust has an elected governing council and will utilise the funds for primary education, basic health services and other community development programme. Kerala’s Forest Department has now leased forest lands to the Kanis where they will sustainably cultivate Arogyapacha for medicinal purposes.

Dr Pushpangadan has comprehensively documented his ‘development model’ for others to follow. The $30,000 he has received as a purse to go with the Equator award has been set aside for popularising the idea in other parts of India.