New Ayurvedic Farming Initiative will Help Preserve Rare, Endangered Plant Species

Madhavi Farms, located in the heart of Bangalore city is the brainchild of Vijayakumar Krishnamoorthy whose green fingers converted a barren piece of land in 1998 into a 20 acre organic estate. Today it is a bio-diversity hotspot with thousands of medicinal, fragrance, timber, fruit and sacred Vedic trees, herbs and plant varieties. This Wednesday, India sadly lost one of its most intelligent ‘Plant Men’, a man whose knowledge of plants, industry and conservation was invaluable.

Vijayakumar was recently part of a group of Ayurvedic doctors from Arya Vaidya Pharmacy (AVP Coimbatore), BEST Innovation University and Center for Soft Power to launch a new project to encourage farmers to grow rare Ayurvedic plants which while benefiting the farmer would also lead to the preservation of rare herbs.

Vijayakumar’s project at Madhavi led to it becoming an ecosystem which is home to several types of birds, bats, insects, reptiles and wild bees. Additionally, Madhavi Farms also hosts a dairy facility for the protection and proliferation of indigenous breeds.

He also saw to the installation on November 2017 of India’s first and largest commercial Aquaponics farm in collaboration with Messrs. WaterFarmers, Canada. Madhavi farms is the first in India to set up this path breaking, new age, innovative, agri-technology.

Aquaponics, as the name suggests, is a combination of aquaculture and horticulture. The entire operation is soil less, uses only 10% of the water that is used in open field cultivation of the same area, and gives an output that is many times more than conventional farming.

Vijayakumar Krishnamoorthy

In the discussion on Ayurvedic farming, Vijayakumar had said that “Industry is always going to be self serving. The more you grow, the less they will expect the price to be.” He gave the example of the yellow Marigold which is used to extract colour or as poultry feed. While the industry initially encouraged farmers to grow yellow marigold at a price of Rs 70 per kilo, today truckloads of Marigolds are at the gates of these industries and they don’t get even Rs 12-14 a kilo. “When supply becomes more than demand, farmers are in the same position whether they grow paddy crop or cash crop."

There are two aspects to Ayurvedic farming - one is conserving native species, “bringing them back in enough volumes and quantities and not losing our endangered species” said Vijayakumar. “The other aspect is to engage with farmers to grow these species in abundant quantities so that the Ayurvedic industry is fulfilled in its need for these.”

He quoted the example of an experiment done in France and which is being practised in Kerala. “If you have 10 acres of land, in half an acre you plant trees that are interesting for you, that do not have any commercial value initially in order to protect a species. The government can give the farmer subsidies in order to keep him engaged in cultivating those crops or species which are of interest to our national Ayurvedic heritage or our Ayurvedic traditions so that overall we will collectively have an output that is interesting.”

The government should take vacant land and make it a part of their social forestry programmes. Currently most social forestry programmes involve increasing timber or  bamboo varieties that provide livelihood, “but they have not focused on these varieties which will provide the alternative medicine industry a tremendous amount of access to different products. In Kerala you see many homes with vanas in their backyard in which they grow plants for medicinal value or home consumption or for personal use. They don’t treat it as a commercial crop, yet that plant is preserved and protected because people are doing it an individual level.”

His friend Dr Bharati is a national and international pioneer and leading scientist in agricultural biotechnology. After years of research, he has developed by tissue culture, a high yielding variety of Bambusa Balcova which he has called Beema bamboo. Vijayakumar said that any project in Ayurvedic farming should include Dr Bharati as he  created tens of thousands of seedlings in his tissue culture lab including new varieties of bananas, brinjals and other vegetables.

“He moved into an interesting sphere known as social forestry where he advocated the cultivation of Beema bamboo, which is an excellent conservation project bringing life into the forest. It also supports all our wildlife. He is now working with governments from all parts of the world in Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Thailand in promoting this species. We can give these hardened varieties grown in these tissue labs to farmers and ask them to reserve a small place to grow these varieties,” Vijayakumar said.

Vijayakumar was a well-known aromatic expert, and had been working with Essential Oils for several decades. He says India is one of the few countries in the world that has rich cultural practices and health traditions. Its ancient practices still hold the key for many modern-day products and techniques. The perfume industry is closely related to the Ayurveda farming industry with many parallels.

He quotes the case of Patchouli essential oil that originated and was popularized from Indian indigenous practice. “Though the patchouli herb had been used for many centuries in Asian countries, it came to be appreciated in Europe only in 1840s through its unique aroma associated with the exported Indian fabrics. This led to the popularization of patchouli and extraction of its essential oil. The name 'patchouli' also originated in India,” says an article on the plant.

Patchouli is a plant used in the production of Patchouli Essential Oil. “Today nearly 15,000 tons of this oil is used in industry worldwide and is an important ingredient in the fragrance industry. Nearly 95 per cent of Patchouli that is grown, distilled and the oil produced comes from Indonesia primarily because the climate and soil are suitable for its growth. It can also be grown in India and Malaysia in areas where we have similar climatic conditions. However, Indonesia is the most competitive grower and they make the product at a price at which no one else possibly can. The way they have been managing this, we can create a template for Ayurvedic plants,” Vijayakumar said.

Indonesia has incorporated the use of co-operatives in every village and with one semi-government representative in every village, along with a village headman and farmers’ representatives. There is a nursery set up by these co-operatives and they give away these seedlings free to the farmers and they are allocated government land, on the boundaries and peripheries of forests.

“It serves some objectives - farmers will not get into forests to poach animals, steal timber or anything else that degrades the forest. Rainfall is aplenty (they get 80 to 120 inches of rainfall,) the soil is good, (so there are no inputs required) with regards to fertilisers etc. They just plant the seedling and start harvesting four to five months later and bring it back to the cooperative who negotiate with industry. Once this crop is done, the government allocates around 100 acres somewhere else as this is a highly nitrogen depleting plant. They come back to this land four or five years later. I am sure we can list out multiple plants like this in our Ayurvedic glossary and collections grown similarly. All of them have grown in the wild earlier,” he said.

CSP in collaboration with AVP and BEST Innovation University would like to make Shri Vijayakumar Krishnamoorthy's vision come true of stemming the outflow of foreign exchange towards purchasing herbs that can be grown in India and also preserving our Ayurvedic plant heritage.

(Pictures courtesy Madhavi Farms)