Kashmir has been the gateway to spiritual ascension for many saints and seers. They say the land has healing energy because the veil between God’s abode and Kashmir is the thinnest here. Perhaps this is the reason the best variety of herbs and medicinal plants grow wildly under His protection here.
For a long, J&K’s medicinal and herbal plants have been important sources of income for the locals. The high altitude of the region creates the right conditions for growing some of the world’s rare varieties of herbs.
J&K is finally tapping the unexplored potential of Agri-tech Startups. The hopes are high after the success of the Purple Revolution of the Lavender herb. The youth that had earlier left Kashmir for greener pastures and high-paying jobs in metropolitan cities of the country are running back to tend to their ancestral fields. People are making fortunes selling local medicinal herbs and aromatic plants which have a high export value. Non-timber forest produce (NTFP) is the new gold in J&K.
In a pine forest at Viji Top having an altitude of 1900 meters a herbal park, which was set up three years ago, is bearing fruits of abundance. Thousands of plants are scattered over 18 hectares of land waiting to be distributed to enterprising youth, schools, colleges, and other institutions.
Many such parks are coming up across J&K for conservation, commercial, and tourism purposes. Due to urbanisation, modern medicine, and political turmoil in the valley for the past three decades, countless species have almost vanished in the region. It was pertinent for Forest Department and the administration to make a repository of these species which were mentioned in the Rajatarangini.
The advantages of cultivating herbal plants in J&K are multifold: i) incredible diversity of medicinal plants since ancient times; ii) diverse agro-geo climate conditions; iii) potential of high altitude medicinal plants of high commercial value; iv) access to critical utilities at no cost; v) lowest power tariffs regime; vi) government offers zonal relaxation to investors; vii) government and NGO support to institutes developing conservation technologies.
Decades of terrorism bore a huge impact on the flora of the region which was left in neglect. Many herbs are extinct today and some individuals from prominent universities have taken it upon themselves to dig deeper and find ways to obtain these species from another place to be propagated once again in the valley. The Department of Genetics and Plant Breeding, SKUAST-Kashmir, is the frontrunner in the initiative.
The time has come to reclaim the natural ethnobotany of the region. Scholars from the University of Kashmir (KU) among other universities are reviving the trusted age-old ethnobotanical practices in J&K. For centuries mankind has used plants to alleviate all suffering, only excluding death. They are researching medicinal plants, investigating their uses, and gauging the profitability of their commercial plantation. 24 lesser-known medicinal plants are already in process of becoming commercial successes. By the end of next year, these parks will be open for tourism to educate people on the uses of traditional medicine in the times we need it the most.
Propagation of these plants in such parks will also uplift the local economy. Villagers have started taking a keen interest in herbs because the union government has many policies and attractive zero-cost start-up avenues in place to help anyone in the Agri-preneurship sector. Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) across the Union Territory conduct free seminars and training sessions for anyone interested in the field. They provide zero-interest loans and free saplings even to people who start as small as a kitchen garden.
Gujjars and Bakerwals are being roped in for research works. Though they make up the most vulnerable and financially lower strata of society, they are in many ways the healthiest because of the medicinal and nutritional knowledge passed onto them for generations.
To further popularise the usage, a 100-crore project ‘The Institute of High Altitude Medicinal Plants’ has been established at Baderwah in the Doda district.
The Post-Harvest Management Centre for Medicinal Plants at Bhaderwah has drying facilities, sorting, processing, certification, packaging, and scientific storage of herbal raw materials to secure farmers a better price. It will link with the local Agriculture University to provide Research and Development backup in cultivation, post-harvest management, and marketing including e-market support to farmers.
The institute is the first of its kind in the Indian subcontinent. Farmers in the area are being imparted education on herbal plants generating employment avenues. The Ministry has also developed Seed Germplasm centers to provide quality seeds to farmers and institutes, micro processing units, mandis, and storage godowns for the seeds. As planned, J&K is soon going to secure the title of the world’s largest herbal sanctuary.