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Linking Traditional Knowledge Database on Medicinal Plants of Kachchh with National Innovation Foundation (NIF) Database 

Centre for Environment and Social Concerns



Conservation of medicinal plants is one of the global biodiversity conservation agendas. It is important not only for economic prospecting, but for revitalization of traditional health practices at local levels. Majority of rural population in developing countries like India still have poor access even to basic health services and therefore it is important to reinstate some of the eliminated traditional knowledge based health care practices, parallel to modern medicine forms. Furthermore, it is well established that large amount of plant based medicinal knowledge are lying among rural communities within a ‘contested domain’ and since majority of these knowledge is still uncodified and not attracting any incentives, they face serious threats of permanent elimination. Also, in a sphere of rapid globalisation many of such important but uncodified knowledge on plants and diseases are still outside the purview of IPR regime and thus open for exploitation. Importantly, it needs to provide IPR benefits to these fragmented knowledge.

Documentation of knowledge and their proper protection through a well-managed database is prerequisite for accruing the IPR and other benefits (monetary or non-monetary) to the ‘poor but knowledgeable’ rural individuals or communities. In 1982, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), New Delhi has initiated a country level Coordinated Research on Ethnobiology and exclusively documented the knowledge of tribal communities. Also, many independent documentation works were conducted in non-tribal regions and generated large volumes of information on traditional knowledge. Parallel to these, initiatives were also taken to evolve national databases for collating such scattered traditional knowledge data into some structured formats. National Innovation Foundation (NIF) at Ahmedabad is currently evolving one such database.

Kutch Ethnobotany Database

MoEF had supported a 3-year project (starting from year 2001) for a systematic documentation of various traditional uses of plants and associated knowledge in Kachchh. To document the knowledge, personal interviews of more than 650 persons were conducted across ecological and socio-cultural milieu of the region. Nearly 10000 pieces of information on various uses of plants were recorded. About 320 plant species were reported for different use purpose. During the survey special efforts were made to document the knowledge of plants for various medicinal purposes. Knowledge of more than 250 plant species for the treatments of 140 different human and veterinary ailments was recorded through 5500 pieces of information. All the above information is already organised in simplified database format.

A national database on plants and their traditional uses, especially the medicinal values, has been setup at NIF as a part of much larger “innovators database”. One of the most important aspects of this database is that it stressed upon getting ‘informed consents’ from the knowledge holders before putting the knowledge into a public domain system like the NIF database. Obviously, these prior informed consents (PICs) provide opportunities to the knowledge holders to accrue benefits (monetary or non-monetary) from their knowledge. NIF, with its other partners like SRISTI and GIANs, aims to bring larger incentives to the knowledge holder by supporting and promoting the innovations (including uses of plants for medicinal purpose).

The Kutch Project

While medicinal plant database for Kachchh is developed, it also raises some serious issues linked to its effective use, accessibility and most importantly its confidentiality and security, especially in the light of growing IPR concerns. An isolated database, without any forward and backward linkages, has limited scope for contributing to both scientific communities and society at large. In the above context, and, to accrue larger benefits to the knowledge holders of medicinal plants in Kachchh, it is important to link medicinal database of Kachchh with NIF database.  As a national level initiative, NIF database has standard formats for data collection and storage. It is, therefore, important for Kachchh database to follow NIF’s formats for easy compatibility. Quality of information is also very important for its efficacy and need to maintain strictly. Also, the information should be adequately backed-up by PICs. Therefore, before linking the Kachchh database with NIF database, addressing the above issues is a precondition. The project, therefore, is aimed at identifying suitable candidates for PIC, obtaining PIC from those who desire to share their knowledge and standardising the information to comply with the requirements of the NIF database.

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Last modified: August 10, 2007