Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology ((RGCB) has launched a major project to support the traditional enterprises of tribal communities in Kerala’s Wayanad district, as part of the government of India’s Science Heritage Research Initiative (SHRI) to preserve the country’s rich tribal heritage and ethnic knowledge.

As part of the participatory approach, tribal self-help groups were formed in identified locations of Wayanad, where the resources were available and the communities were interested to revamp their tradition and heritage.

Taking the project forward, RGCB Director Chandrabhas Narayana inaugurated a lemongrass oil extraction unit at Valad in Thavinjal Panchayat and a paddy processing unit at Peechamkode in Vellamunda Panchayat. Lemongrass oil extraction has been a long-standing enterprise among the tribal communities of Kerala, who reside near the grassland areas of Wayanad and Idukki.

Narayana said by introducing the steam distillation system, the process of extraction becomes more effective, and the unit members will get better economic returns to improve their quality of life. Haritha Lemon Grass oil Unit, the SHG has been formed for running the unit and RGCB’s project team supported the group by setting up work shed and providing advanced machinery.

Gau Mithra App

Narayana also released the ‘Gau Mithra App’ on cattle diseases and their traditional cures, developed by RGCB’s Tribal Heritage Project team, at a function held at the Paramoola Kurichya tribal family at Peechamkode.

The app carries information regarding as many as 16 illnesses cattle are prone to, and the traditional cures for them. The ethnoveterinary app encapsulates a wide range of orally transmitted ethnic knowledge and practices relating to livestock diseases and cures, gathered from the tribal communities of Idukki and Wayanad districts. Dairy farmers can download the app from the Play store. The contents are available in both Malayalam and English.

Successful business model

Based out of Thiruvananthapuram, RGCB is an autonomous institution under the Department of Biotechnology. The RGCB’s initiative will directly benefit 40 tribal families, and the unit is expected to become a successful business model for community enterprises.

The paddy processing unit, Harithasree ST Kootayima at Peechamkode will help protect the rich genetic wealth of traditional paddy varieties of Wayanad. The RGCB supports them to cultivate the traditional paddy varieties around seven hectares of land and create a gene bank of 19 traditional varieties. The project team provides traditional paddy seeds, a common facility centre, and paddy processing machines with rubber-bushed hullers.