Video | Inherited knowledge and its value for modern healthcare: “The country can learn much from the beauty of Adivasi social practices, their culture of sharing and respect for all”

Learn from M S Swaminathan – a world renowned scientist – how biological diversity contributes to public health, people’s livelihood and environmental security in addition to food security: his call on Indian citizens to use and share resources in a more sustainable and equitable manner; outlining the long journey from the 1992 Earth Summit to a commitment to foster inherited knowledge through India’s Biodiversity Act and Genome Saviour Award; an award intended to reward those who are “primary conservers” – guardians of biological diversity.

Watch the video message Biodiversity Prof M S Swaminathan and related contents the distinguished scientist’s YouTube channel: MSSRF CAbC WAYANAD and his website to understand the larger context of his mission.

In 1997, MSSRF established its first Community Agro-biodiversity Centre in Wayanad district of Kerala to work on ‘community biodiversity management’ by promoting a coalition of the concerned, notably, government departments and voluntary organizations for the conservation of the genetic wealth of Wayanad and surrounding region. | Learn more >>

Read a report in the Hindustani Times (22 November 2018): “Tribesmen bag plant genome saviour award” (for conserving cereals, millets, spices, tubers, vegetables)

Medicinal Plants Used by Traditional Healthcare Practitioners of Dominant Tribes of Koraput in Odisha

The paper documents the medicinal plants growing naturally in the forests used in traditional healthcare system by major tribal communities inhabiting four southern districts of Odisha, India. In the tribal villages, traditional healthcare practitioners (THPs) are responsible for collection, processing, and administration of herbal medicines acquired through inherited knowledge. We recorded 294 medicinal plants, out of which 34 plants are commonly used by nine dominant tribes though the mode of preparation, plant parts used, and the treating ailments vary within the tribes. Malaria, diarrhea, and skin infections are the most commonly occurring diseases treated with a variety of herbal medicines and the tribes depend strongly on the THPs. Although several medicinal plants utilized in primary healthcare have been recognized, their conservation, sustainable use, and benefit sharing is lacking. A garden of medicinal plants was established to protect the traditional knowledge of tribal communities for Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) under the Biodiversity Act (BD Act), 2002, empowering with modern and mass cultivation methods and market linkage for economic benefi ts and as a part of conservation measures of these depleting resources. – Publication date: 2013

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The M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) was established in 1988 as a not-for-profit trust. MSSRF was envisioned and founded by Professor M S Swaminathan with proceeds from the First World Food Prize that he received in 1987. The Foundation aims to accelerate use of modern science and technology for agricultural and rural development to improve lives and livelihoods of communities. | Learn more>>

Date accessed: 10 January 2019


The term “Adivasis” (original inhabitants) refers to the Indigenous Peoples of India who possess distinct identities and cultures often linked to certain territories. The term is derived from the Hindi word “adi” which means “of earliest times” or “from the beginning” and “vasi” means inhabitant or resident, and it was coined in the 1930s. Officially they are termed as “Scheduled Tribes” (STs) which is a legal and constitutional term specifying the tribal groups with distinctive cultures, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, traditional beliefs and practices, such as indigenous arts of dance and music, unique way of life and nature worshipping, living in unreachable areas. STs also refer to the groups living in unreachable areas with social and economical backwardness and highly depending on forests resources.

Indigenous Knowledge of Adivasis

India’s regional languages such as Oriya, Marathi or Bengali are developed from the tribal languages as the fusion with Sanskrit (or Pali) and virtually all the Indian languages have incorporated words from the vocabulary of Adivasi languages. […]

Adivasis who developed an intimate knowledge of various plants and their medicinal uses played a valuable role in the development of Ayurvedic medicine. In a recent study, the All India Coordinated Research Project (AICRP) credited Adivasi communities with the knowledge about 9,000 species of plants, including 7,500 used for human healing and veterinary health care. Dental care products like datun, roots and condiments like turmeric used in cooking and ointments are also the discoveries of Adivasi, as are many fruit trees and vines. Ayurvedic cures for arthritis and night blindness owe their origins to Adivasi knowledge.

Adivasis also played an important role in the development of agricultural practices – such as rotational cropping, fertility maintenance through alternating the cultivation of grains with leaving land fallow or using it for pasture. […]

Health Issue

Most Adivasis live in poor hygienic condition resulting in various problems such as low life expectancy, low nutritional intake, high morbidity and high infant mortality rate. The inadequacy of public health care delivery system, poor preventive measures, insufficient income and high consumption of tobacco and alcohol have led Adivasis to an unhealthy life. Comparing to the earnings of Adivasis, the expenditure on health is a heavy burden which keeps Adivasis living in a poor health conditions.

The Role of Adivasis in the Freedom Movement

Adivasi uprisings in the Jharkhand belt were quelled by the British through massive deployment of troops across the region. The Kherwar uprising and the Birsa Munda movement were the most important struggles in late-18th century against British rule and their local agents. The long struggle led by Birsa Munda tackled the British policies that allowed the zamindars (landowners) and money-lenders to harshly exploit the Adivasis. In 1914, Jatra Oraon started the Tana Movement, which drew the participation of over 25,500 Adivasis. The Tana movement joined the [Gandhian] nation-wide Satyagraha Movement (the non-violent movement for independence) in 1920 and stopped the payment of land-taxes to the colonial Government.

During ruling period of Britain, several revolts also took place in Orissa with the active participation of the Adivasis. The significant ones including the Paik Rebellion (1817), the Ghumsar uprisings (1836-1856), and the Sambhalpur revolt (1857-1864).

In the hill tribal tracts of Andhra Pradesh, a revolt broke out in August 1922. Led by Alluri Ramachandra Raju, better known as Sitarama Raju, the Adivasis of the Andhra hills succeeded in drawing the British into a full-scale guerrilla war. As the freedom movement spread, it drew Adivasis into all aspects of the struggle. […]

Many tribal places are in hilly and forest areas and the tribal activities mainly depended on the resources from forests. Forests and tribal have a symbiotic relationship. In spite of being threatened by modernization of the country, some of the tribal continue to live in forest areas. Some of them survive only on the collection of minor forest produce. The tribal have been using forest from generation to generation as their source of livelihood. However, with the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act 1980, their rights to collect minor forest produce and other forest produce has been restricted considerably. […]


The country can learn much from the beauty of Adivasi social practices, their culture of sharing and respect for all – their deep humility and love of nature – and most of all – their deep devotion to social equality and civic harmony. However, in the increasingly industrialized and modernized world, the indigenous peoples always become marginalized with their distinct relationship with the nature. The government and civil society movements should ensure that means of livelihood for indigenous peoples are available to them. The culture and traditions of indigenous people should be protected at all cost. The society at large should be ready to learn from the value system of indigenous people to keep the world with greater sense of equality and fraternity.

Source: Backgrounder on Adivasis in South India
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Date Visited: Sun Apr 21 2013 13:47:59 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples is an independent organisation based in Hong Kong with an Asian focus. […]

Source: ACPP- Working for Justice & Peace in Asia
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Date Visited: Sun Apr 21 2013 13:44:38 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Publications on the above issues may be found here (title descriptions and libraries):

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