Rubber Board is betting big on intercropping medicinal plants in plantations

Intercropping of medicinal plants in rubber plantations has gained momentum with major Ayurvedic drug manufacturing companies coming forward to take over the project by providing the necessary planting material.

Kottackal Arya Vaidya Sala (KAVS), one of the leading manufacturers of Ayurvedic medicines in Kerala, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with rubber grower companies for the cultivation of medicinal plants under a buy-back deal.

Mr. D. Jessy, Director (Research), Rubber Research Institute of India, said
Activity area that several Ayurvedic drug manufacturers have approached to promote the cultivation of medicinal plants on plantations, but the Rubber Board insists on only taking over the project with a takeover agreement. The lack of a secure market for medicinal plants unlike that for food crops is a disincentive for farmers to engage in medicinal cultivation.

“We have just started the small-scale project with KAVS, which will provide the plant list, supply the materials and strictly monitor the cultivation,” she said. Through this project, the Council aims to improve the livelihood security of rubber farmers and ensure a continuous supply of herbal medicines to meet the needs of the Ayurvedic industry.

Medicinal plants under threat

The Rubber Research Institute of India has also started a program to produce quality planting material of endangered medicinal plants through biotechnology tools for intercropping in rubber plantations.

She pointed out that there is a growing demand for herbal medicines and the scarcity of quality raw materials is a constraint for the growth of the Ayurvedic industry. Many medicinal plants grow in wild conditions in forests and their indiscriminate exploitation has led to a scarcity in its availability. Land is scarce in Kerala for exclusive cultivation of medicinal plants and efficient land use through crop diversification is the only viable way to increase the production of medicinal plants, Jessy said.

D. Ramanathan, Secretary General of Ayurvedic Drug Manufacturers Organization of India, said cultivation of medicinal plants in rubber plantations would be a good business proposition considering the size of the total raw material market for the industry. Ayurvedic in Kerala, estimated at ₹1,400 crore and the industry is 70 percent dependent on raw materials from outside the state. Additionally, the pandemic-induced lockdown has affected the movement of these shipments from outside.

Intercropping medicinal plantations would be ideal for shrubs, not plants. However, the need of the hour is to strike a trade deal with farmers, the Rubber Board and drug manufacturers for the benefit of all stakeholders, he added.

Rubber trees have a long gestation period of about 7 to 8 years, when there is no income from the plantations. Sufficient land and light are available in rubber plantations for the first 3-4 years for the cultivation of annual or short-term crops like fruit crops, vegetables, medicinal plants, spices and ornamental plants, which generate income and improve the livelihood security of producers.

RRII has conducted several experiments to assess the performance of medicinal plants in mature rubber tree plantations. Light-requiring medicinal plants such as Thechi (Ixora Coccinea), Kattarvazha (Aloe Vera), Orila (Desmodium Gangeticum), Moovila (Pserdarthis Viscida), Neela Amari can be grown with rubber, she added.

Alvin J. Chase