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No ordinary herb garden

Nov 29, 2008

In Nepal, the World Food Programme and local NGOs are helping villagers grow herbs in a nursery to augment their income. The chiretta plant, known for its medicinal qualities, is then used for domestic consumption and also exported to countries like India.

Jhyari: Villagers in a remote mountainous settlement in Mugu district, central-western Nepal, are finding that the best way to nurture their future livelihoods is by establishing a herb nursery. But it is not your typical herb garden.

Herb Nursery.jpg

The nursery – at a site called Ghattachaur and established by residents of Jhyari settlement in Pina Village Development Committee (equivalent to a sub-district) – includes medicinal and aromatic plants.

The main plant being grown is chiretta (also called chiraito), a bitter herb considered an all-purpose medicinal remedy in some parts of the world. According to G.K. Nair and M. Mohanan, authors of Medicinal Plants of India, it is effective against intermittent fevers, skin diseases, intestinal worms, bronchial asthma, burns, regulating the bowels, and for hiccups and vomiting.

"The plant used to be plentiful in the nearby forests and we would pick it for our own consumption and to sell," said Sal Bahadur Rawal, supervisor of the nursery. It is a real income earner. While a kilo of millet costs 20 rupees (about 26 US cents), a kilo of chiretta costs 200 rupees (US$2.66), 10 times the amount.

The villagers said they used to sell the chiretta to Nepalese middlemen who flew in by helicopter and resold the drug in India. Now the wild plant is close to extinction, so the villagers decided to grow it themselves.

Additional income

They are desperate for the additional income as their current agricultural production is not sustaining them. They have experienced several years of bad harvests, with 2008 being particularly bad. The winter wheat and barley crops were damaged by drought and the rice and millet crops hit hard by excessive rain, hail and landslides.

Khadka Lal Rawal, chairman of the nursery construction committee, said they held a mass meeting in April 2008. "We put forth our demand for the nursery," as one of the priority needs of the community. The World Food Programme and its cooperating partner, The Mountain Institute (TMI), agreed to support the livelihood scheme. The Dolpo Institute, a local NGO, was the implementing partner in the construction phase during June and July 2008.

One hundred households worked on the project for 18 days and were paid with 7.8 tonnes of WFP rice. The nursery is the first of a dozen TMI has helped establish in three mid-western districts of Nepal. It has also trained over 150 farmers in cultivation techniques.

Method

The chiretta plants are initially grown in the nursery for 6-7 months, before being replanted in the fields of the 100 participating households.

"It will take three years for the plant to grow to full size and to harvest," said Rawal, chairman of the nursery construction committee, adding that while some of the produce would be used for home consumption, most would be exported to India.

"After three years, one household can earn as much as 30,000 [$400] to 40,000 rupees [$533] per year from the sale," according to nursery supervisor Sal Bahadur Rawal.

A user committee will make decisions on export sales, and use some income for new community projects and to expand the nursery, he said. "Once we grow 1-2 metric tonnes, we plan to sell directly to India and get the highest price by avoiding the middleman."

According to Gagan Shahi, project manager of the Rural Community Development Centre (the local NGO that took over from the Dolpo Institute in September 2008 in implementing many of the food-for-work projects in the region), the nursery symbolises the most needed kind of infrastructural development: "We want to give priority to income generating activities such as this," he said.

Source : IRIN
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