a. CONSERVATION OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Since the mid 70s ICAR and CSIR had been focusing on standardizing agro-technologies for around forty-five species of medicinal plants but no institution in India was promoting conservation of the wild gene pools of the 8000 species that constitute the medicinal wealth of India.
In the rapidly evolving context of habitat loss and fragmentation of natural landscapes I-AIM was the first institution to point out, in 1993, the need for conserving the inter and intra specific diversity of medicinal plants in their natural habitats. Between 1993 and 2004 in collaboration with state forest departments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, I-AIM has conceived, designed and technically guided a 40 crore project for the creation of 55 Forest Gene Banks (FGBs) of 200-500 hectares size each, across Peninsular India. These 55 FGBs have been designated by the State Governments as permanent Medicinal Plant Conservation Areas and they capture the gene pools of the medicinal plant diversity of the region. Attached to every FGB is a nursery that propagates important species that occur in the FGB for supply to user groups. Every FGB is managed jointly by the Forest Department and local forest communities. This is the most cost-effective strategy for conservation of India’s medicinal plant germ plasm. In 2004, the UNDP and GEF (Global Environment Facility) have pledged to work with MoEF, Govt. of India to expand the Peninsular India program to the N.E., N.W. and Central India. I-AIM has been designated as the technical resource agency for guiding this program.
b. INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE
The use of Information Technology for processing the vast and rich materia medica of Traditional Systems of Medicine was pioneered by I-AIM in 1995. This is an innovative program for the modernization of Indian systems of medicine in order to improve their access, and mine their knowledge base for a variety of research purposes. I-AIM, by 2004, has developed multi-disciplinary databases on medicinal plants linking the traditional materia - medica (on plants and metals & minerals) computerised from primary texts over the period 1500 BC to 1900 AD to fields like botany, agriculture, geology, conservation, trade, phyto-chemistry and pharmacology.
c. BRIDGE BETWEEN TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE AND SCIENCE
The use of modern tools like chemistry and pharmacology for assessing traditional medicine was initiated in India in the 1950s by Col. Chopra in RRL, Jammu. I-AIM lab, set up in 2001, is a pioneering initiative in epistemologically informed cross-cultural research. Its work is based on a rigorous methodology (that is still evolving) for co-relating concepts, categories and approaches of traditional knowledge systems with modern science. It has standard facilities in chemistry (including phytochemistry) & biology (including microbiology and molecular biology). Over the last 3-years it has standardized raw materials and processes used in traditional medicine and developed innovative products for industry on a consultancy basis. It has initiated research on basic concepts of Ayurvedic pharmacology like ‘rasa’ and is investigating traditional methods for purifying water. It has developed an innovative, low cost, chemical kit for identification of medicinal plants.
d. SCIENTIFIC REPOSITORIES OF NATURAL RESOURCES
With the growing global interest in traditional and complementary systems of medicine it is essential for India to establish an authentic national repository of all the natural resources used by the Indian systems of medicine.
I-AIM pioneered in 1995, the establishment of the first internationally accredited herbarium (botanical repository) of the medicinal plants of India. At the end of 2004 the Herbarium has collected around 70% of the medicinal plants used by the codified Indian Systems of Medicine.
I-AIM has already initiated digitization of the herbarium, and has planned in future to expand the repository to include medicinal fauna and the metals and minerals used by traditional systems of medicine. There is also a scope in future for diversifying the botanical, geological and zoological repository into a chemical and cell repository.
e. REVITALISATION OF FOLK HEALING SYSTEMS:
Since 1995 I-AIM has been working with a network of community based organizations to revitalize local health cultures in rural communities in Southern India. It has standardized a method for rigorous documentation of local health traditions as well as for participatory assessment of prioritized health practices. It has sponsored dozens of taluka, district and state level conventions of folk healers in Southern states. For the last nine years it has also been giving annual Nati Vaidya Ratna awards to outstanding folk healers.
A very significant program for promoting health security of rural households was initiated by I-AIM in 2000. Under this program in collaboration with reputed NGOs and self-help women groups over 200,000 home herbal gardens have been established across the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa & Chattisgarh and the households trained in the use of the herbs for primary health care.
Since 2002, I-AIM has been doing field studies to document and evaluate traditional bone setting, veterinary practices and preventive treatments for Malaria in South India. It has helped to establish around 100 folk healer associations in rural communities across four southern states.
f. RESEARCH HOSPITAL
In 2004, I-AIM has started a small 20-bed Ayurveda & Yoga nursing home on its campus in Bangalore to standardize holistic strategies for management of different health conditions. This facility has been up scaled to a 100-bed clinical research hospital and wellness centre in 2010.
g. A HERBAL PUBLIC LTD COMPANY OWNED BY RURAL WOMEN AND SMALL FARMERS
In 2001, I-AIM initiated a community owned enterprise whose shareholders are small marginal farmers and rural women. It is called the Gram Mooligai Company Ltd. This company is designed along the AMUL model for the herbal sector. It is registered under the Companies Act. The company engages in cultivation, collection and value-addition of herbal products. In the last three years the Company has achieved cumulative sales of a little over Rs. One crore.