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Herbal gatherers – Maruthi Mooligai Producer Company


Kalanjiam Thozilagam Limited is an initiative of DHAN Foundation formed with the objective of increasing income of the poor through need and context business interventions. The poor people lack adequate business knowledge and support to start up a business initiative which can greatly enhance their livelihood.

KTL plays a crucial role in bridging this gap. It provides market support, to reduce the problem of middlemen the people face, gives training and capacity building, promotes primary producer groups and marketing groups and enables them to form producer companies. Presently KTL is supporting marketing of agricultural commodities, sea food marketing ( dry and fresh fish), bio fuel marketing (charcoal and fuel wood) and medicinal plants marketing. The herbal marketing has a great potential and currently it is procured from herbal gatherers, who collect the naturally growing herbs in foot hills of Himalayas, western ghats and Andoman and Nicobar islands etc., Ninety percent of herbs used for manufacuturing herbal medicines in India comes from such collections. Commercial cultivation of herbal plants is yet to pick up in large scale. The KTL has supported formation of Mauruthi Mooligai Producer company limited to support the herbal gatherers recently. The need for the same and how the activity is organized is presented here.

Availability and Distribution of Medicinal Plants

India has 15 Agro climatic zones and 17000-18000 species of flowering plants of which 6000-7000 are estimated to have medicinal usage in folk and documented systems of medicine, like Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Homoeopathy. About 960 species of medicinal plants are estimated to be in trade of which 178 species have annual consumption levels in excess of 100 metric tonnes.

Medicinal plants are not only a major resource base for the traditional medicine & herbal industry but also provide livelihood and health security to a large segment of Indian population. The Indian medicinal plants and their products also account of exports in the range of Rs. 10 billion.

Market Potential

There is global resurgence in traditional and alternative health care systems resulting in world herbal trade which stands at US$ 120 billion and is expected to reach US$ 7 trillion by 2050. Indian share in the world trade, at present, however, is quite low.

Herbal gatherers

Herbal gathering is a traditional livelihood activity of people particularly women folk living in foot hills of different mountain ranges. In southern districts of Tamilnadu, foot hills of the western ghats are found to be rich in a array of medicinal plants which are gathered by the people. Generally women whose health condition prevents them from doing hard physical labor concentrate on herbal gathering. Hence old women, destitute, landless belonging to most backward or tribal community engage in this activity. They used to start from the village as early as 5 am, walk a few kilometer ranging from 2 to 5 km to reach the foot hills. They will collect whatever herbs they find in gunny bags and return by afternoon or by evening The following are the issues that herbal gatherers face.

  • They are largely unorganized and market their produce individually.
  • They used to carry very little quantity they have gathered, to nearby towns for marketing which consumes money and time.
  • Often the middlemen and traders, cheat them with incorrect weighment and lesser price underrating the quality and also lowering the market price.
  • They do not have enough facilities for storing and drying the produce.

KTL’s Intervention

In order to solve the problem of herbal gatherers who belong to the poorest of the poor category and effort to organize these herbal gatherers has groups, collectively procure and market the medicinal herbs KTL started forming the primary herbal gatherers groups as early as 2005-06. The primary gatherers group usually consists of 10 to 20 members, mostly women. The formation of such groups was initiated in Battalagundu block, of Dindukal district, as a support to the Kalanjiam women initially and later the support was extended to non-members also. As the initiative started providing good results and additional income earning to the members the activity was expanded to other areas like Appanthirupathi, Alanganallur, T.Kallupatti and Kottampatti blocks in Madurai District, Theni and Periyakulam Blocks in Theni districts and few villages in Virudhunagar, Ramanad and Sivakangai districts. Curretly more than 1000 such herbal gatherers were organized.

KTL also provides support for training and capacity building on good farm collection practices (GFCP) and also on the different medicinal plants and their large scale market potential. More specifically training was given to herbal gatherers on regenerative method of harvesting, without uprooting the entire plants but plucking specific parts of them based on need, so that they grow again and again and make the livelihood sustainable.

Procurement centers were also opened in the vicinity of herbal gathering villages, to support the primary herbal gatherers groups . These centers have facilities like weighing machines, tarpaulins, enough storage place etc. Procurement centres were opened after assessing the quanity of herbs that are supplied from the village, , distance to nearby town and number of primary gatherers groups to which the center can provide its service.

Since most of the gatherers are illiterates, KTL appoints a business associate in a cluster for facilitating the purchase, sales and stock maintenance. The thirty two primary producer groups were promoted by KTL, which was now organized into a producer company called Maruthi Mooligai Plants producer company limited.

Area of Operation

The Maruthi Mooligai Producer company has exposed its Medicinal plants activity in 65 villages and in 7 districts viz., Madurai, Virudhunagar, Ramnad, Sivagangai, Dindigul, Theni and Tuticorin. It has so far established twenty procurement centers and four storage godowns. The storage godowns were located at Sivarpatti, Retraipatti, Ramanaikkanpatti & Appanthirupathi villages. The major medicinal plants procured and marketed through these centers were Thulasi, Vatta sarana kodi (punarnava), Melanelli, Sakkari Kolli leaves, Neem leaves, Karisalaanganni and Keezhanelli. The quantity of the major medicinal plants procured since 2006 and their procurement value is presented in the given table.

S.No Medicinal plant Quantity procured Sold for ( Rs)
1 Thulasi 4,90,147 80,60,984
2 Vatta Sarana Kodi( Punarnava) 1,44,881 11,63,622
3 Melaanelli 1,07,535 7,14,746
4 Sakkarai Kolli leaves 28,093 7,18,188
5 Neem Leaves 1,35,412 8,70,771
6 Karisalaangani 90,799 8,28,582
7 Keezhanelli 10,408 2,16,899
Total 10,07,275 125,73,792

Besides this KTL also facilitating the marketing of Pirandai, Morniga leaves, Vallaarai, Sirukurinjaan, Siriyaanangai, neem dried fruits, Oridhazh thamarai, Mudakkathan, Seendhil kodi, Vatta sarana roots, Avaram poo and leaves, Kozhinji, Nannari roots, Oomathai leaves, Nilapannai Kizhangu, Nelli kai, notchi, parpadagapul and Manjanathi kai.

To conclude

The herbal gatherers has contributed their share to the Maruthi Mooligai plants producer company. The company has planned to mobilize Rs 1,00,000 as share to by the end of the financial year 2012. Since the gatherers themselves are the shareholders, in addition to the fair price, they will also be sharing the withheld price when Maruthi mooligai producer company makes a surplus.

Chittupillai aged 44 is a herbal gatherer by profession. Her husband Jyothi pillai and her son Selvaraj supports her in the activity. Chittupillai was eager to share her experience in herbal collection acitivity. “We usually go as a group of 5 to 10 women for gathering herbs. Our work starts at 6 am and extends to 5 to 6 pm. We travel few kilometers in search of herbs. The knowledge about herbs transferred through generations helps us to identity the herbs easily. We collect thulasi, vatta sarana kodi, Seendhal Kodii, Nernji kaai and Nernji plants, neem leaves, Avarampoo, Moringa seeds and barks etc., After collecting we dry them and process them without dust and other unwanted materials. A one week of such a collection enables to market 15 to 25 kgs of dry medicinal plants. Earlier we use to travel to Usilampatti which is 16 from our village Vadivelpuram. Now as we have our own procurement center at Veeruveedu which is 6 km from our village, it is easy for us to market our produce. Also correct weighment is ensured here and satisfied with the price. Through herbal collection each of our member earn Rs1000 to 1500/month. As the rainfall is very low this year we could not get enough herbs. Sometimes we travel as a group to distance places like Ottanchattiram, Kallimandhaiyam, Palani etc., in search of herbs. We carry prepared food that lasts for one or two days, stay there for 4 to 5 days, sometimes even a week to gather the herbs. We usually stay in our relative’s house.” Gathering Nerunji pods is a very difficult job, since the thorns in the pods will pierce our fingers. We used to have a cotton cloth band over our fingers while plucking. Yet the pods pierce our fingers and hence they have got hardened over the years.

Viruveedu procurement center

Viruveedu procurement center in Batthalagundu was opened in 2006 to enable the herbal gatherers in 32 villages around Batthalagundu to sell that produce at a fair market price. Eighteen Primary producer groups and 250 members were benefited through this center. The center has a railway weighing scale, tarpaulins, gunny bags and enough storage space for storing the herbal produce. Two business associates were also recruited to support the process. On peak season Rs10000-30000/ worth of worth of medicinal plants will be procured each day through this center. When the total quantity procured reaches 5 tonnes, it will be transported to the Storage godown in Silvarpatti. Silvarpatti storage godown also receives produce from Periyakulam procurement center. The major medicinal plants procured in this center Thulasi, Vatta Sarana Kodi( Punarnava), Mevaanelli, Sakkarai Kolli leaves, Neem Leaves, Karisalaangani and Keezhanelli. Pirandai, Morniga leaves, Vallaarai, Siriyaanangai, neem dried fruits, Oridhazh thamarai, Mudakkathan, Seendhil kodi, Vatta sarana roots, Avaram poo and leaves, Kozhinji, Nannari roots, Umathai leaves, notchi, parpadagapul and Manjanathi kai also are procured through this center.

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