'English herbs' from Indian mountains
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'English herbs' from Indian mountains

Few know that rosemary, thyme, and oregano come from the Blue Mountains of Tamil Nadu.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2006 12:37 IST

A dash of rosemary, thyme or oregano is needed to make that heavenly pizza perfect. Few know that all these come from a village tucked away in the Blue Mountains of Tamil Nadu.

These are herbs the Europeans brought to India, for flavouring and garnishing. In the Nilgiris hill side, they have been always known as 'English vegetables'. That was until the 1980s when the Indian Spices Board found them.

Villagers and tribes grew them seasonally and sold them in local markets to middlemen who took them to cities such as Bangalore and sold them at exorbitant price without certification, says board director K.P. Somasundaram.

He helped coordinate a World Bank-funded export-led poverty alleviation project in these hills, about 500 km west of Chennai. An international workshop on export processing in December 1998 triggered the board's initiative to help rural communities export organic spices.

The project became one of 44 programmes chosen worldwide from 1,200 competitors to win a $250,000 World Bank development marketplace award as an "innovative project" in 2000.

The producers get assistance from local NGOs and the Spice Board, which spent about Rs.4 million for four years to get the programme on its feet.

One such NGO is Health of People and Environment (HOPE) working in the Nilgiri hills. It helps local people produce rosemary, thyme, parsley and oregano.

"We have given them the technology to produce fresh and dehydrated varieties of these herbs. Now they also have the method of making herb oils for export," K.S. S. Thampi, a Spices Board deputy director, told IANS.

They also suggest business plans, maintain records for organic certification and establish contacts with local exporters and overseas importers.

The project also integrates existing poverty reduction schemes in the areas, such as micro-credit programmes. At first there were four project sites -- two in Kerala and one each in Tamil Nadu and Orissa involving 335 families, including 135 from indigenous tribes. It also benefited some 1,800 farmers living around the project sites.

The proportion of women involved in the project ranged from 40 to 50 percent in Kerala and Orissa. But in the Nilgiris it is 100 percent.

By March 2004, the project encompassed 2,160 families growing organic spices on 4,660 acres. "The project has demonstrated the viability of poverty reduction through entrepreneurial capacity building. It could be repeated anywhere in the world," said one official.

First Published: Feb 03, 2006 12:37 IST