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Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions

Amruth is a Sanskrit word meaning immortal and is also a local name for Tinospora cordifolia (Menispermaceae), a plant used traditionally in India for its rejuvenating properties. AMRUTH is therefore a particularly appropriate choice of name for the magazine of FRLHT, which is working to rejuvenate India’s medicinal heritage. /ALH

Drawing of la ttotora (Typho spp., Typhaceae) from El Monte Nos Da Comida.
The Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT) is a non-governmental organization whose main objective is to bring about a revival of India’s medical heritage. FRLHT has begun a medicinal plants conservation project in three states in southern India, and has set up the Indian Medicinal Plants Genetic Resources Network, INMEDGERN, to coordinate conservation activities. 30 medicinal plant conservation areas for in situ conservation and 15 ex situ conservation parks have been established in cooperation with Forest Departments and environmental and health NGOs. These areas will protect about 1000 medicinal plant species, including endemic and threatened species, in all the major forest and vegetation types of the region, from thorny scrub to rain forests. In addition, work at the conservation sites will include surveying and documenting indigenous knowledge, particularly of local health traditions, and demonstrating methods for the sustainable production and use of medicinal plants. Another initiative of the foundation is the Indian Medicinal Plants Distributed Databases Network (INMEDPLAN). This seeks to link important databases on medicinal plants in order to facilitate access to and standardization of data. FRLHT produces a medicinal plants conservation magazine entitled AMRUTH.

Community Registers, or Peoples’ Biodiversity Registers (PBRs), are being established throughout India to document – at the village level – local knowledge, skills and techniques related to biological resources. This initiative began in 1995, with the goal of revitalizing such knowledge, through raising awareness of its value and also by encouraging sharing of knowledge between communities. It is hoped that the registers will be useful tools to help protect traditional community rights and to protect their knowledge from exploitation by commercial users. The registers could prove useful for the latter by providing proof of prior use, and giving the possibility of enforcing the prior informed consent of the concerned community. A final goal is to help set priorities for conserving resources under threat.

A draft register is being tested in a few hundred villages in seven Indian states, with the help of community-based organizations. Once a format has been finalized, it is hoped that the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests will give the Community Registers appropriate legal status. This initiative is being coordinated by the Centre for Participatory Management of Biodiversity, based at FRLHT. The Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES) of the Indian Institute of Science is also working with FRLHT in this initiative.

‘In an exclusive interview for AMRUTH, Mr Yellappa Reddy, former environment secretary to the Karnataka government who resigned recently protesting the setting up of the Cogentrix power project fearing large-scale damage to the ecology of the Western Ghats, called upon the government to document the nation’s herbal wealth and knowledge ...Mr Reddy speaks passionately about how the forest wealth of medicinal plants started to decline.“Though the indiscriminate exploitation of Nature has been going on for ages, the Halaki Vokalligas were one tribe which had the knowledge of tapping resources, like collecting rich wild foods, flavours or essences. This tribe had perfected the art of harvest as well as post-harvest procedures and used to propagate plant species in their own way”, says Mr Reddy. “But with degradation of forests and scarcity of herbs this is no longer the case.”’

Deepak D’Silva, J. 1996. The decline of herbal wealth. Who is to blame? AMRUTH 1:12-13.


Traditional medicine practitioners in India use more than 7000 plant species, a significant proportion of the country’s total flora of some 16,000 higher plants.


Institute of Popular Cultures

For its popular publications, INCUPO has chosen a format with the look and feel of a newspaper, ensuring that useful plants are always in the headlines./GJM

The Institute of Popular Cultures (Instituto de Cultura Popular, INCUPO) has been working since 1970 with the rural poor in northern Argentina. This NGO works specifically on wild food plants and the management of the region’s native forests. Research has been undertaken to investigate the knowledge and use of food plants by the local communities, and this is being complemented by research into their nutritional values. These findings are reported back to the communities through a variety of publications. A number of booklets have been produced which offer practical advice on how to use food plants. For example, El Monte Nos Da Comida includes recipes, preparation methods and plant descriptions, accompanied by photos and illustrations. Another booklet gives advice on how to preserve food, using both traditional and new methods. A newsletter, Acción, comes out monthly and is circulated throughout the region. This reports not only on the work of the Institute, but also on other events and projects in the region.

The Institute’s work on the use of wild food plants is also the basis for a broader program to promote sustainable management of the region’s native forests. Foresters, agriculturists, nutritionists and veterinarians have been working with the local communities to develop sound methods of utilizing the forest for both animal and human nutrition.

‘Don Ramón, a fisherman, tells us with that wisdom that comes from living: “La totora [cattails]! It’s good for whatever you’re looking for; its roots are as rich as cassava ... How many seats I have woven in my life with totora ... ! If you lack firewood, and there is totora, there is no reason to worry ... ! A braid of three leaves is enough to heat water ...”’

Anonymous. 1991. La Totora. Pages 32-34 in El Monte Nos Da Comida. Santa Fe, INCUPO.


  • Magui Charpentier, Instituto de Cultura Popular (INCUPO), Rivadavia 1275, 3560 Reconquista, Santa Fe, Argentina; Tel. +54.48229367 or 48221325, Fax +54.48220409


ECOAR Institute for Citizenship

Elaine Elisabetsky, whose work on the ethnopharmacology of Amazonian plants is widely known, has turned her attention to helping communities collect their own data, improve their health care and commercialize non-timber forest products. The manuals she has produced with other members of ECOAR are models to be consulted by people with similar goals. /GJM

The ECOAR Institute for Citizenship (Instituto ECOAR para a Cidadania) is a Brazilian NGO which was set up following the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development by a group of professionals and environmental activists. ECOAR has two main purposes: to promote and advance civic responsibility through environmental education, and to encourage sustainable forestry development. Within the environmental education program, ECOAR is evaluating and creating a database of printed materials used in environmental education in Brazil. In addition, ECOAR is organizing workshops on how to design projects, and is active in the Brazilian Environmental Education Network.

ECOAR publishes a range of books, reports and guidelines. Among the most recent of these has been a handbook Doenças de médico, remédios de farmácia (Physicians’ conditions, pharmacy remedies by Elisabetsky,E. and R. Trajber, 1995), giving advice on how to treat some of the most common diseases in the Amazon with traditional remedies. This publication, funded by the Centro Orientamento Educativo, Italy and the European Union, has numerous diagrams and illustrations that make it accessible to the forest people of the Amazon. Another handbook, on plant collecting in extractive reserves, has been created for use by rubber tappers to enable them to gather and record data both for their own benefit and to help protect their intellectual property rights. Called Manual de Coleta de Plantas em Reservas Extrativistas (Manual of Plant Collecting in Extractive Reserves by Elisabetsky, E., L.C. Ming & R. Trajber, 1995), it was funded by the Rainforest Alliance and Tom’s of Maine.

The Forests and Sustainable Rural Development Program is planting thousands of trees, mainly on small properties, of both native and exotic species. ECOAR also runs a Citizenship Program for the municipality of São Paulo. The program is working in the east and north of the city, an area with a population of some three million, to develop ecological awareness among people and to strengthen community initiatives dealing with social and environmental issues.

‘Recently, there have been many researchers and scientists writing notes in fieldbooks, measuring, taking photographs, recording conversations, filming, collecting plants, asking how they are used ... A part of the work of these researchers focuses on the search for local plants that could be used as remedies, perfumes, food and fiber that industrial interests might wish to buy ...Much of this research could be done by the community itself. This manual teaches how to collect ethnobotanical information, because a person who has well-organized data is in a position to commercialize it.’

Elisabetsky, E., L.C. Ming and R. Trajber. 1995. Manual de Coleta de Plantas em Reservas Extrativistas. São Paulo, ECOAR.


  • Rachel Trajber, Instituto ECOAR para a Cidadania, Rua Maestro Elias Lobo 378, 01433-000, São Paulo, SP, Brazil; Tel./Fax +55.11. 8858687, e-mail rachel@utopia.ansp.br


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