//Tribals to benefit from renewal of licence for herbal drug

Tribals to benefit from renewal of licence for herbal drug

Jeevani’ was developed by scientists at TBGRI, Palode

GLOBAL MODEL IN BENEFIT-SHARING: Tribal people pose in front of the community hall built with funds received from a partnership programme with Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute at Palode. – Photo: S. Mahinsha

Thiruvananthapuram: A herbal drug developed by scientists at the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI) at Palode near here is set to sustain the development of the Kani tribal belt on the foothills of the Western Ghats. The institute has invited bids to renew the licence for production and sale of Jeevani, its first product to have made it to the global market for herbal drugs.

The scientists had harnessed the traditional knowledge of the tribal folk to develop the drug from a rare species of medicinal plant found in the local forests. The commercial returns from the project are being used to assist development activities in 27 tribal settlements. With the renewed licence, TBGRI is hoping to enlarge its global footprint in the market for herbal products.

Ever since it was launched in 1995, Jeevani had attracted international attention for its immuno- enhancing, anti-stress, liver protective and anti-fatigue properties. The key ingredient in the drug is Tricopus Zeylanicus, a medicinal herb locally known as Arogyapacha. The TBGRI shot into the limelight after it evolved a unique mechanism to share 50 per cent of the commercial benefits of the project with the Kani tribe.

The minimum bid rate has been fixed at Rs.20 lakhs for licence fee and a royalty of four per cent on the ex-factory price. This represents a 100 per cent hike over the existing contract for licensed production, which expired in 2002.

Sources in the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE) said the proposed hike in the licence fee and royalty was justifiable in view of the huge demand for Jeevani in the export and domestic markets. The KSCSTE director K.R.S. Krishnan said the bids would be carefully screened to identify companies that have the capability to manufacture and market the drug in the global market.

In 2002, the UN Environment Programme and the World Trade Organisation accepted the benefit- sharing agreement between the TBGRI and the Kani tribe as a global model. The same year, the partnership also won the UN Equator Initiative Award at the Earth Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Global model

The Chonampara settlement colony nestled in the Kottoor forests will soon boast a computer training centre for tribals. The Kerala Kani Welfare Trust, which manages the funds routed to the tribals under the benefit- sharing pact with the TBGRI, is constructing a building to house the computer centre.

"We propose to appoint a tribal as instructor to train young men and women in basic IT skills," says secretary of the trust, Kuttimathan Kani, who had attended the UN- sponsored Earth Summit at Johannesburg in 2002 to highlight the path-breaking project.

The trust, representing tribals from 27 settlements in the Western Ghat forests, has already received more than Rs.7 lakhs as its share of the licence fee and royalty from the sale of Jeevani. The funds were used to construct a community hall that also doubles up as an office, tribal school and a reading room. Recently, the trust purchased a jeep that is used to transport ailing tribals to hospital and to take farm products to the local market.

It has also extended financial assistance to support two orphaned tribal children whose mother was trampled to death by a wild tusker. "But for the assistance received from the partnership, the tribals would still have been a neglected, exploited lot," says Kuttimathan Kani.

S. Rajasekharan, Head of the Ethnomedicine division at the TBGRI, said the trust could think of taking up commercial cultivation of Arogyapacha under a buy-back arrangement with the new manufacturer. The raw plant currently fetches Rs.250 per kg.

Former TBGRI director P. Pushpangadan, who had piloted the Jeevani project, feels that the renewal of manufacturing licence should be backed by proper protection of patent rights and backward linkage with the tribals for supply of raw material.