Kumaon is a land rich in natural resources and traditional knowledge systems pertaining to agriculture as well as medicinal and aromatic plants. Over the course of time, agriculture practices have dwindled and traditional knowledge has been eroded to the point of being lost forever. Especially in the higher reaches of the Himalayas, entire villages have been abandoned as communities have moved out in search of livelihoods. The problem of migration has assumed serious proportions and many schemes and policies have been made to encourage people to remain in their villages and to return to traditional ways of life.
It is worthwhile to look at both the indigenous knowledge and resources of the region in the context of creating a range of products which would have a demand in the domestic and international market and which would be beneficial to the body, mind and soul of people with a demanding and stressful lifestyle in cities far removed from nature. In this context, it is possible to create a sustainable and replicable project whereby indigenous plants are grown by local communities, especially women, and primary value addition is done in village centres thus providing employment to them. There are several broad categories into which the plants can be classified, such as for nutritional, aromatic, medicinal and ritualistic uses, or for a combination of these which would bring long term benefit to the consumer.
Crops and herbs traditionally grown in high altitudes, above 2000 mts, have intrinsic nutritional value due to the rich mineral content of the soil and the purity of air and water in these regions. Similarly, aromatic and medicinal plants growing in such pristine conditions would have specific characteristics and inherent value. At the initial stage of this project, a great deal of research needs to be done with regard to the different plants and their properties, as well as to identify communities who would be willing to revive the growing of such plants in remote areas of the mountains where livelihood is a challenge, forcing migration and abandonment of traditional lifestyle.
The Hridayesh Foundation proposes setting up an integrated project for the identification, growth, and value addition of specific Himalayan plants found in Kumaon to create a line of bespoke high end products utilizing these plants for nutritional, medicinal, healing, and aromatic/ritualistic purposes as well as to use the fibres of certain plants like hemp and giant Himalayan nettle for weaving of textiles and accessories. In addition , creating a range of products for pets from is also being considered.
Initially, research would be done to identify the plants to be used for different products, as well as to identify keepers of traditional knowledges such as shamans and faith healers, pastoralists and farmers. Certain areas have already been identified where the Hridayesh Foundation has lands and infrastructure, such as Binsar Sanctuary and its surrounding villages in Almora District, and Abbotmount in Pithoragarh District. Remote villages around Munsyari in Pithoragarh where tribal communities have a wealth of knowledge and still practice traditional ways would also be identified. Similarly, women’s groups could be established in the region around Chitai, Kasardevi and Binsar in Almora.
Simultaneously, a state of the art research and development centre would be set up in Chitai village near Almora where partners like SOS Organics and experts in various related fields would be working together with the Hridayesh Foundation on product development, forward and backward linkages, and developing a brand name and identity. Along with research and development, the Foundation would focus on strengthening women’s groups within mountain communities and providing sustainable livelihoods from growing plants and obtaining semi finished products from village units which in turn would be finished, packaged and sold from a central production unit or units. It is envisaged that once the research and product development has been perfected, hundreds of women would benefit from direct livelihoods through the project and thousands of farmers would benefit indirectly. In this way, the aim of the project is to provide livelihoods through returning to traditional lifestyles and empowering communities not only materially but by giving them pride in their culture and traditions.
The source of pride and accomplishment would come from having a discerning, appreciative and involved clientele both in India and abroad, through which the unique culture, history, mythology and lifestyle of Kumaoni people as well as the awe inspiring beauty and ruggedness of the mountains could be shared and disseminated across the globe and inspire clients to visit the region and contribute further to its well being and economy. The overarching theme of the endeavour would be to connect diverse people to the divinity and powerful energy of the Himalayas through a vibrant and unique enterprise run by women. Indeed, throughout the ages it is the courage and resilience of mountain women which has manifested as the most enduring symbol of Kumaon, and it is possible to connect the spirit of these women to that of independent, successful women of diverse backgrounds and cultures, using an exquisite range of products as the bridge.