"A man doesn’t plant a tree for himself. He plants it for posterity." – Alexander Smith
Rural communities across Hill states in India have unknowingly followed this adage through several generations & lifetimes, yet bear the unfortunate brunt of limited success in harnessing the intrinsic potential of plants & crops strewn all over the rural countryside. Although there are several limited success stories regarding the proliferation of Nettle & Bamboo in states like Uttarakhand, there exists an unfortunate chasm between entrepreneurial zeal & government support – which has hampered the prospects of localized self-development based on the high potential flora & fauna.
Across several rural hamlets in states like Uttarakhand, underutilized biomass from crops like Sisal, Lantana Camara & Bhimal offer a gold-mine of commercial opportunity for residents – provided they are harnessed through adequate research & market linkage opportunities. Take Lantana for example – Its leaf has tremendous value for the development of essential oils & natural dyes. In countries like Indonesia, the local populace mixes its stem with cement to make high-quality bricks for construction purposes.
Similarly, natural fibers like Bhimal & Sisal are widely used for a variety of food, fuel, fodder & technical textile-related applications. In fact, in the year 1994, there was an extensive study conducted to explore the high-value uses of Himalayan Nettle, which eventually formed the basis for its declaration as the fiber of the year in 2008 – 24 years later!
However, the unfortunate reality is that government institutions which are meant to support & facilitate such innovation, are facing an innovation deficit themselves. With changing times come changing requirements; one of which should be state government sponsored innovation cells with a floating budget, which are audit-free and where the effort to risk ratio is constantly evaluated in an objective manner.
There exists a pressing need for systematic change, based on greater out of the box thinking as well as the assertive empowerment & incentivization of local entrepreneurs from each state’s local eco-system. This can easily be facilitated by providing a common platform for entrepreneurs, government, farmers and scientists need to collectively determine problem areas and identify innovative solutions.
Alternatively, it is essential for potential rural entrepreneurs to be afforded the resources & support required to travel across the rural landscape opportunities in search of game-changing innovative opportunities. This can easily be achieved through the realignment of local & state government policies in line with the urgent needs of an increasingly young population. It is during these pivotal moments when the passion to be self-made entrepreneurs manifests into high-value opportunities from disregarded elements of nature. For example, with plants like Eupatorium & Parthenium, the capital cost for their set-up & processing is practically 0 – even though they harbor unmatchable prowess in terms of their potential utilization as raw material for organic pesticides & insecticides.
One of the greatest challenges which await a legion of potentially self-sufficient rural communities is matching the science of the plant to its commercial potential. That’s where Product specific species determination becomes essential, as it helps one to narrow down on species of plants & crops which will provide the required quality of raw material for high-value commercial applications.
Take the case of Bamboo – What began with a survey & identification of 120 indigenous species was eventually whittled down to 5-6 species differing in cellulose content, quality level, outputs and varying commercial applications of its raw material. These varieties now form the crux of all livelihood development activities conducted by organizations such as the Uttarakhand Bamboo & Fibre Development Board. This forward integration between raw material and end product could only occur through the combination of a collective effort between nodal government agencies, scientific institutes, rural communities, local entrepreneurs and environmentally friendly industries.
With the advent of an Industrial Hemp (Cannabis) policy in Uttarakhand, the state can learn from the mistakes of the past and begin afresh. By creating a multi-disciplinary, patience laden innovative approach involving the entire realm of relevant stakeholders(from Government to Farmers to start-up enterprises), a new horizon of prosperity beckons across the value chain for millions of Indians.