Ethnobotanical study across five ethnic communities of Assam

The North-eastern states of India harbours more than 130 major tribal communities of the total 427 tribal communities found in India, representing one of the greatest region of ethno-botanical wealth. Every society has developed indigenous botanical knowledge or ethnobotanical knowledge through its dynamic interactions with its surrounding environment. Studies on the ethnobotanical uses of plants by the local people are often significant because it provides a gateway for the exploration of new source of drugs, food, from the herbal origin.

Ethnobotany is the study of how people of a particular culture and region make use of indigenous (native) plants. Since their earliest origins, humans have depended on plants for their primary needs and existence. Plants provide food, medicine, shelter, dyes, fibers, oils, resins, gums, soaps, waxes, latex, tannins, and even contribute to the air we breathe. Many native peoples also used plants in ceremonial or spiritual rituals. Examining human life on earth requires understanding the role of plants in historical and current day cultures.

The Northeastern States of India harbors more than 130 major tribal communities of the total 427 tribal communities found in India, representing one of the greatest region of ethno-botanical Knowledge.

These ethnic communities, settled mostly on fringes of forest regions, held within their cultures a vast repertoire of plant based knowledge. For generations these communities developed an intricate knowledge of the resources that plants provided for almost all of their existential requirements- food, shelter, and medicine, besides also contributing to their cultural & spiritual ethos.

Tribes that developed an intimate knowledge of various plants and their medicinal uses played an invaluable role in the development of Ayurvedic medicines. In a recent study, the All India Coordinated Research Projects credits these ethnic communities with the knowledge of nine thousand plant species—seven thousand five hundred used for human healing and veterinary health care. Dental care products like datum roots and condiments like turmeric used in cooking and ointments are also “tribal” discoveries, as are many fruit trees and vines. Ayurvedic cures for arthritis and night blindness owe their origin to tribal knowledge.

Various Ethnobotany studies have been conducted across tribal communities of the Northeastern Region of India.

These studies have primarily focused on documenting the extent of plant uses, and most of this information has been derived from certain knowledgeable individuals and/or practitioners of herbal remedies. 

Ethnobotanical studies were carried out among the different tribes located in the districts of Cachar, Sibsagar, Jorhat, Tinsukia, Lakshimpur, Golaghat and Sonitpur. These studies mainly explored the different ethnobotanical plants used by the different community members, mainly focusing on the aged or elderly people, village heads, and herbal practitioners of each community. 

The present study not only focuses on the knowledge of elderly people, but also aims to determine the change in ethnobotanical knowledge within different age groups (age 16–30, 31– 60, and 61–80) of the community from the Sonitpur district of Assam. This study also helps to understand the present ethnobotanical knowledge gap between the younger generations in comparison with the elder generation within the same community. 

This will create an ethnobotanical perspective on understanding and allow for the documentation of the influence of modernization, on shifts in ethnobotanical knowledge across three generations within an ethnic community in a particular region.

Objective of the pilot study

  • Exploration & documentation of ethnobotanical plant used by 5 ethnic communities of Sonitpur district of Assam. 
  • Market value assessment of commercially important plant products used by the different community.
  • Collection of voucher specimen for herbarium and seed bank. 

Duration of the study is one year. The sample size is 300 individuals, 60 from each of the 5 selected villages, representing one community each. Information on the use and knowledge of ethnobotanical plants are being collected

using semi-structured questionnaire. Discussions and interviews are being collected from individuals within three different age groups (age 16-30, 31-60 and 61-80).

 

During the study we are collecting voucher specimens and preparing herbarium sheets. The collected plans are processed following the routine method of plant collection and herbarium techniques. All of the herbarium specimens will be kept in the Balipara Foundation Herbarium Centre.

Herbarium Specimen of “Futuka” plant

The use value (Phillips et al., 1994), a quantitative method that demonstrates the relative importance of species known locally and the Informant Consensus Factor (ICF), will be calculated for each species. 

Changes in ethnobotanical knowledge under the influence of modernization will be analyzed as the similarities or dissimilarities of ethnobotanical knowledge between any two villages correlated with the differences in modernity between them. In this study, different villages are selected which vary in the extent of their modernization, and the modernity score will be calculated for each village following Furusawa, 2009.

To estimate the total trade of different wild edible plants in the district, 6 major weekly markets were selected for the study.

The seasonal variation of NTFPs availability and volume traded in the market will be estimated following a semi-structured questionnaire in each selected market point.

 

An inventory will be prepared for all the NTFPs; medicinal plants, fruits, wild vegetables, fodder, dye yielding, mushrooms, construction materials, agricultural tools, spices, gum resin and tannin, local drinks and beverages, thatch, oil yielding, seeds, flowers etc. available in different months in these markets.

The total monetary value of each NTFP will be calculated by multiplying the total quantity sold with the average market price.

“Mosundori” roots sample collected from Balukpong market

Data will also be gathered on types and parts used for all NTFPs sold, numbers of retailers involved in selling the forest products, source of collection, their harvest levels, time of collection.

The study will also investigate which are the most important plant species for rural households in terms of cash income. The data collected will be analyzed and interpreted for one year with the total quantity sold and gross income generated from the sale.

 

 

 

 

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