Project #6938


by The Earth Trust
Aug 5, 2011

Rid Poverty in Tribal Villages of the Nilgiri Ranges in South India

Earth Trust has been working in villages for the last 10 years. Since setting up health training for village health workers in the forest area, it became clear that nutritional problems were affecting the health of men, women and children. One of the primary aims of our work is to ensure that each & every intervention strengthens the community & does not weaken it.


On further studies it was apparent that one of the reasons is the breakdown of the communities. There is a transitional loss of traditional knowledge of resources for food & health as the living styles change and children leave the families for school education out of the communities. As communities are pulled out into the external world knowledge is being left behind.


In discussions with the communities it is apparent that many species previously used by them are disappearing. In the last six months we have conducted 3 programmes to start the documentation of these species with them to identify exactly what has disappeared locally. We have also identified land available in the villages which are interested to re-establish these species in their forest gardens along with other trees important for nutrition like Aegle marmelosa, Moringa, and Garcinia varieties which have high nutritive value. Every family is to have two moringa trees and promotion of local fields of moringa will be encouraged.

Setting up of forest gardens by local families to regenerate the local forests & restore the important species for the future generations is key to the restoration of traditional knowledge, and health


In an effort to address nutritional problems the government has set up a system for distributing what is known as “Ration Rice” to poor families at one rupee a kg. Unfortunately this has actually made the situation worse for the forest people. It has also set up a crime situation where cheap rice is taken out of the state by lorry load and many who could afford good food are jumping on the bandwagon. In fact the white rice, which has no nutritional value issued is taken by the tribal families and eaten as an easy substitute for their traditional food which is full of nutrients.

As a result of our funding from Global Giving we have been able to extend our health training into more remote areas and from discussions with the local women and it was decided to encourage a “grandmother’s traditional food day” at each full moon so that the knowledge & practice of their traditional cooking is not lost.

On the 3 full moon days since we started, the Irula women from the edge of the forest have made: a honey with millet powder dish; Jackfruit jelly; Jackfruit flour chapatti from the seeds; Unripe Jackfruit poriyal, jackfruit chips & Bamboo sprouts dishes. Also Sinthamani cooked reyan tuber with honey and Mala made seeni chilli (sugar chilli).

The Kurumba women made green chutney with local wild leaves. Poonima also made a soup made from local greens called puvidok with cumin. They cooked goongai greens and an amaranthus dish with honey they had gathered from the high rocks in the area.

The Toda women from the grassland areas cooked Samai rice with their buffalo milk. Samai is an ancient grain used by them for their festivals. They spoke of their tradition of gathering greens & using them as salad. Needidevi used curd with wild root.

The Kotas used old varieties of wheat to make pancakes with raw brown sugar and sweet wheat flour dishes. With Raggi which is a high altitude kind of millet they made raggi balls to dip into spicy local sauces and porridge called ganji. The impact of these activities is affecting around 100 small villages in the tribal areas here on the eastern edge of Nilgiris.

This programme has created a lot of excitement among the women & some of the food which they are tasting has not been cooked since they were children. We want to extend this deeper & deeper into the wild food tradition in the months ahead.

Our most recent 12 module health programme has been started at Dhenalai village where we have been helping the children with their kitchen gardens for nearly five years. This year they have been taking their skills & knowledge back into their village and are growing 20 organic village home gardens with herbs & vegetables. This is a Badaga village and the women in the health training group are collecting & planning the cereals & plants traditionally grown in their communities for their own full moon food festival this month

Poverty in rural areas affecting nutrition of children

In the rural schools of the upper plateau of Nilgiris, school meals are an important part of the diet for children from poor homes. But again it is short of important nutrients. With the monsoon, a new planting season is underway in 11
of the poorest schools. Sowing has started & charts for seed treatment & growing practices are being made.

Documentation of herbal & nutritional plants in two tribal schools.

Two schools are involved in documenting & growing their traditional herbs & foods with help from the tribal elders. In Glenmorgan, the Toda children have started this by planting 60 indigenous trees in their small compound & a
start has been made by bringing in the elders.. In the South, Kilkunda school is involving in their own programme for this with the Kurumba elders. They have already completed the documentation of their traditionally used plants and will create a community of plants in their compound by planting these among the 58 indigenous trees already established by them.

Rs.10,000 monthly is needed for an “In-forest” programme to give a holistic education to the tribal children who have dropped out of school. This would just cover the cost of a teacher to live in the communities there & develop a forest based education.

Second herbal preparation unit

A second project site is being developed further south-east at Droog. This is an area on the edge of the forest ghat near Coonoor where we have developed herbal kitchen gardens & given trainings earlier. Following the success of this and the impact of the Kolikarai project venture we have started another centre for preparation of herbal medicine. This new initiative is meeting the needs of women who would have to walk 7km & stay overnight to attend any training or reach any urban centre.

This is on track for the long term aim to facilitate another 7 gene-pool nurseries, each supporting a medicinal herb preparation unit with a complex of forest gardens. They would be set up around the Nilgiri ghats in 7 tribal villages.

Together with the health training programme this will impact 90 villages and a population of around 1,500 people.

The outcome would be:

  • Improvement of livelihoods based on traditional herbal knowledge
  • Well nourished & healthy communities
  • Self respect & confidence acquired by tribal families through increased knowledge & skills
  • A replicable model to incorporate into the Forest Department programme as part of a strategy for creating richly biodiverse forest areas (value: carbon sequestration, protection from global warming, protection of water sources as well as the safeguarding of traditional knowledge.)
  • A powerful protection of forest resources which have been decimated in the past by predatory companies- who have also broken the link between many tribal groups & their environment.

After two years in Kolikarai it is very easy to measure the changes in the confidence & happiness of the women involved, they are able to continue with or without inputs from ET and they WANT to continue. Sovereignty over the context within which they live is primary.

One of the most important aspects to be considered is whether we want strong & confident tribal people to contribute in the outside society/world. From a strong & confident family, young people are able to go out into the world with much to contribute. From a weak family will come only people who struggle to find their place. This is exactly what can happen in tribal communities where development has not been thought through. If we want them to send out strong young people into society we need to strengthen their base…

ET is making the local communities its top priority. The village health workers who make the medicines are supplying their families & clients in the villages where they work. It is being closely monitored by the health team manager and a Siddha doctor. Siddha medicines are being supplied at ET HIV positive programme as prescribed by a Siddha Doctor. Clinical trials are being done. The results are giving people back their lives.

A local state of the art hospital is being built at Kotagiri where agreement has been reached to set up a high tech Indian Traditional Medicine Unit which will provide an outlet for the primary herbs prepared by the small tribal units.

Other markets are also available.

Thulasi Group Village Health Workers

Success Stories

Total no of Beneficiaries in Kolikarai area from the work of the village health workers running the Thulasi Group Herbal Preparation Unit– 1500 people in 90 Tribal Villages

Introduction This group of tribal women from 12 main villages have an outreach into many small & remote village. Mainly they deal with primary health care issues of coughs & colds, headaches & fevers. They all keep detailed records which are monitored each month.These are a few of the more dramatic stories from them

Name of Village Health Worker -

Mrs.Ammini amma
Working in Thiruchikkadi, a Kota village

Case study: Srija,

Aged 2 years

She was not able to walk. The family took her to the local hospital several times but there was no improvement. Then they heard of Amminiamma’s work in the village. They came to her house and she gave Srija a massage daily using Centella oil for two months. Now she is able to walk perfectly.

Name of Village Health Worker:


Case study: Herself:

For a long time she was suffering from a stomach ulcer. She took allopathy treatment from NAWA hospital and was admitted there for one week without improvement. Then she came to Kolikarai unit and took the sagadevi herbal tablet. Now she has no more problems.

Case study: : Getten & Lakshimi. S

Admitted in NAWA Hospital for cold and cough.

Kalliammal suggested the couple take the sagadevi herbal tablet for one week. They are now better.

Case study:

One old man from Annaikatty village had a paralysed leg and arm. Kalliammal did massage for him with Centella oil resulting in easing of the arm movement and enabling him to start walking again.

Name of Village Health Worker :

Working Villages: Kollikarai, Athipadugai

Case study : Meena

A Pregnant lady from Sundapatty was admitted in NAWA hospital in Kolikarai. The doctor told her that it will be a complicated delivery as the shoulder & leg were presenting & he would probably have to do a caesarian. Saroja gave a herbal decoction to the lady. After she took the decoction, the baby turned & presented a normal delivery within 24 hours.

Name of Village Health Worker :

Working Villages: Ariyur, Kakkagundu,Ariyurmattam, Kallor

Case study: Patient suffering from
Russel viper snake bite: Ponnamma gave dandagidu herbal medicine. She recovered
within a day.

Name of Village Health

Worker Malliga.
Working Villages: Mettukal, Addugodu Estate, Kothimooku, Guest house, Badgur

Case Study: Hydrocele . Her herbal medicine gave good result

Name of Village Health Worker :

Working Villages: Pudhu Kothagiri, Kil Kothagiri

Case study:Lalitha.

She had skin Allergies for four years. She took the herbal medicine from Babyammal and it is much better.


The Earth Trust is supporting these women make a transformational shift in their lives and the lives of the communities they live in - the progress is slow but the effect is sure and long-lasting.With the the help of donors of Global Giving we hope to do much more.


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Organization Information

The Earth Trust

Location: Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu - India
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Vanya Orr
Ketty Post, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu India
$13,411 raised of $88,200 goal
193 donations
$74,789 to go
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