Meeting Chunni Lal was an incident that led me to write this piece of information. My grandmother is an old lady in her seventies and she tries her best to avoid allopathic medicines. And to my amazement, she knows a lot of people who are proponents of their own ready-made concoctions from locally found herbs. She had called one of the Vaidhyas who had a vast knowledge of Ayurveda, Vaastu and Astrology. We had a formal introduction and we talked, discussed and argued. We talked about my grandmother's illness and he popped up the cure – wrote down a concoction of herbs with weird names. I had heard names of just one or two among them. The good thing about him was that he told me the place and name of the merchant from whom I could buy those herbs – Rajbiraj and Chunni Lal.
The following day, I got to Rajbiraj to find Chunni Lal's shop. I found his shop at a corner of the market. It was a small room with the oldest look I had ever seen, the racks were broken and the jars with herbs had gathered piles of dust on them. And an old fat man was feeding a baby mongoose! I stood there for a while and was looking at the shop, the jars, the old man and the baby mongoose. The old man looked at me and asked why I was there. I told him my purpose. He kept the mongoose in a tin-box and came to attend me. He took the list from me and started searching the herbs. It was a long list and he kept on making puriyas (small packets) of the herbs and writing names on them. He had an old book which was torn in many places. He consulted it in between.
He carefully packed the herbs. He was telling me about the herbs, how they are picked from nature, dried and brought to his shop. He was ecstatic to show me more than 10 varieties of salt. I had never seen so many varieties of salt! When the turn to pack locally found herbs herbs came, he told me about the possibilities – collection of herbs from the nearby jungle, involving the manpower and marketing the products. There was a gleam in his eyes. To me he seemed to be Nepal's Dr. Burman, the man who started Dabur. Within a few minutes' chat we became close associates and I came to know that he was in that profession for the last 50 years. Had he been able to access and mobilize the local resources he would have been one of the largest suppliers of Nepali herbs. He told me the names of hundreds of herbs that are found in our jungles in abundance. Also he talked about the cultivation of some of the herbs.
Talking about Nepal and the herbs it has in its mines, Nepal stands 27th position in bio-diversity richness. In Nepal about 6,500 species of flowering plants are expected to occur, 5% species being strictly endemic and more than 1600 species of medicinal plants are reported to be used in the traditional medicinal practices. Currently the total volume of trade of MAPs (Medicinal and Aromatic Plants) is estimated to be 10,000-15,000 tons per year, comprising around 100 species. (courtesy: www.nepalherbs.org )
Out of nowhere the idea about using unused lands, cultivating herbs, selling them, generating employment and bringing laurels to the economy sprang up in my mind. I have put my effort to share the same with you all.
First of all, we all are aware that all of our villages have huge masses of unused lands which are termed as Ailanis and Partis. Apart from these ailanis and partis many villages have Bagars, the unused land on the banks of rivers. These pieces of unused land can be used for herb cultivation. If nothing grows in bagars then at least we can grow Aloe vera which attracts a huge demand from the West and Japan or we can grow Seabuckthorn which is making news in China these days.
The responsibility of cultivation can be given to a bunch of young unemployed youth. They will take up the errand wholeheartedly. A mobile group of technical persons who can monitor the growing, harvesting and packaging can be formed. There are lots of technical persons who will be willing to work as the advisers. A marketing wing at Kathmandu will have to do all the works regarding the marketing and export of these herbs. In the process, the Village Development Committee (VDC) will get rent for the unused lands, village youth will get employment as herb growers, technical and marketing persons too will get employment. And the herb processing if done will generate ancillary industries around the area, making a surge of employment generation and economic prosperity.
If few like-minded people can join hands then it's not impossible and I think we can be an example for other rural settings around South Asia and the world. And I don't think that this will bring any disharmony in our age old social fabric. According to our traditional planning, each village had certain number of ponds, Chautaris, the places for village meetings, Gaucharan, the fields for grazing cattle, temple of village deity and lots of other planned pieces of lands. Doing this (herb cultivation) we will only use the unused land! People like Chunni Lal can help us with their knowledge. Instead of sitting in his age old shop selling herbs worth few hundreds, he can help us in identifying, growing and processing the herbs.