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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

In search of Safe Herbal Medicine - Organic ginger trip



Two stake holders have raised the issue on the quality of raw materials used in the manufacture of Siddha and Ayurvedic medicines. One drug manufacturer with GMP facility used to talk about his concern on the quality of dry ginger – Chukku he receives for drug manufacture in the last decade – most of them from imported source with very little pungency, aroma and more of fibre. A retired Indian Administrative services officer used to raise the question on using herbal ingredients which are grown with hybrid planting material, heavily treated with chemical fungicides, pesticides and fertilizers- She used to ask, are these things safe to human and will they have the same benefits and safety profile as mentioned in traditional texts of Ayurveda and Siddha?  These questions were always haunting me. So I decided to be on a trial of some of the key raw materials. Dry Ginger – Chukku being a key ingredient in most Siddha, Ayurveda formulations, even the one like Sowbagya suntee, which is used by lactating mothers. So it become a natural choice. After a detailed literature search on sourcing pattern, cultivation areas in south India were identified, and we decided to travel to the region personally and interact with Agricultural university, Spices research Departments both in Tamilnadu and Kerala, Horticultural departments in cultivation areas, NGO’s involved in capacity building, farmers both growing organically and otherwise. The area covered included Coimbatore districts, western slope villages of Nilgiris, Wayanad district – Sultan bathery, Kalpeta, Gundalpet area of Karnataka and Satyamangalam region of Erode district.

The key outcome of the studies is as under

  • TNAU Spices department feels the area under cultivation is very meager in TN either organic or otherwise. No specific package of practices has been developed for ginger- organic cultivation, the practices recommended by the spices board is disseminated among farmers but no documentation of pest , disease and their management is done, though solutions are suggested to farmers. The same view is echoed by the State horticulture department in Coimbatore district.
  • The Technical officer in Spices research centre of KAU feels though some farmers claim they grow organically, 98% use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides etc but feels. organic cultivation is feasible and he showed few cultivation sites. The same sentiment was echoed by the Associate director of Research, Spice research centre, KAU. But there was variation in cost estimate and yield. They feel Rio  de janero and Rajat are superior in terms of yield both for table use and dry ginger process.
  • There is a NGO which promotes organic farming (MSSRF) and they took us to few farmers who are cultivating native Maran variety very successfully near Kalpeta for processing it into dry ginger. The farmer also grows Varatha variety for table/cooking use 
  •  Satyamangalam organic farmers looks like using multiple natural products like VAM, Azo, Phosphobacterium, Trichoderma, Panchakavya, Amirthakaraisal, Moor karaisal etc which may not be feasible by all
  • On observation and measuring – Maran Variety scores over others in terms of yield, dry ginger output low fibre content, better oleoresin content. 360 bags of 60 kg each per acre.
  • Sandy loom or alluvial soil is best suited. A bund of one meter breadth is made and mother seeds are planted at 30 cm gap between two. Most of the cultivation is rain fed as the area receives rainfall for 6 months during the crop season. Feb is the month of sowing. Harvesting is completed by Dec
  • Harvesting at 240 days from the appearance of first tiller from mother rhizome provides better quality yield.
  • Excepting some rotting during water stagnation not many pest or disease affect the crop which requires intervention. But still farmers use pesticides and fertilizers as routine

To conclude Organic cultivation of ginger is possible as input cost is lesser and output is more or less equal and definitely not less than conventional crop and organic cultivation various rhizomes used in Siddha and Ayurveda is possible and a systemic effort to promote them is necessary among farmers, ayurvedic industry and end users.

Incidentally the study trip was adventurous as we traveled across Anaikatty, Silent valley, Wyanad and Mudhumalai tiger reserve, Muthanga wild life sanctuary, Bandhipur wild life sanctuary and Sathyamangalam tiger reserve. On the day of our visit there was a tiger attack on a woman, who died very close to the estates we were traveling. But we were asked to vacate the area  immediately by our senior forest officer friend on telephone and advised as not to travel after sun set. Timely warning.

I must acknowledge the following persons.  Kerala Director of IMPCOPS Dr. Arunbaby helped a lot in networking in his area. I must say the Associate director of Research Dr.Rajasekar of Kerala Agriculuture university and Mr.Rajamony Technical officer went out of the way to interact with us at their homes till late in the night.Mr. Vargeese of MSSRF - Kalpetta took us to farmers for on site interaction. Ramanji of Green Kovai, Arsha Vidya Gurukulam helped with logistics.