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Adding Value to Valuable Vegetables

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  By Jayprakash Panwar ‘JP’

Over the centuries, the Uttarakhand Himalaya is known as ‘Ausadhiprasth’, which means home to medicinal herbs and plants. Uttarakhand as a new state has been trying hard to re-establish the old identity of Ausadhiprasth. The high altitude geographical regions of the state are the most suitable locations for medicinal and aromatic plants. These high altitude regions are under the Forest Department, which provides limited permits to local villagers to extract medicinal wealth. However, the middle and lower mountain ecological zones are more favourable for commercial farming and processing of traditional food, fruit, vegetable, medicinal and aromatic plants, where farmers can earn their livelihood.

Today the Himalayan Action Research Centre (HARC) is in the news for developing a successful agro-based initiative during the Covid-19 pandemic. About one decade ago, HARC started working with the women farmers of Chamoli district and established a processing centre at Kaleshwar near Karnprayag. The prime motto was to make women self-reliant through agro and farm-based activities. HARC has organised women under a cooperative, named ‘HARC Alaknanda Swayat Sahkarita’. The special attribute of this cooperative is that all the functioning, management, production, packaging and marketing are completely done by the women members. Apart from regular production, processing and marketing of herbal tea, fruit juice, squash, jelly, pickle, organic vegetable, grains and pulses, the HARC cooperative in collaboration with food scientists has been experimenting with a wild edible plant locally known as ‘Linguda or Kothira’. It is a wild fern that mostly grows near water springs and in moist climatic condition. For centuries, local people have used Linguda as a vegetable product. This fern is popular among the folk of Uttarakhand and other parts of the Himalaya. It is also found in China, Japan, Indonesia, Laos, Korea, Thailand, and the Hawaiian islands. The botanical name of Linguda fern is “Diplazium esculentum” and it is full of antioxidant qualities. It is rich in micronutrients, beta–carotene, folic acid, and minerals (Ca, Fe, and P). This fern grows for a limited time and most of the plant’s usable Rhizome decay quickly without use.

The HARC scientific team wanted to preserve it for a longer time and the idea came up by adding value to Linguda. Last year, the HARC cooperative started this initiative with the collection of one ton of fern and processed it into pickle. It quickly gained popularity in the market and the demand could not be fully met. “This year, our target is to make two tons of Linguda pickle to meet the demand of consumers,” says Mahendra Singh Kunwar, the Secretary of Himalayan Action Research Centre.
“Uttarakhand state has great potential for such value-added products, which can support people’s livelihood in a big manner. It only needs concrete ground-level planning, government support, and the markets are locally available,” added Kunwar.

(The writer is freelance Journalist, Radio & Television presenter and a Documentary Filmmaker.)