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Agriculture

Here's a happy farm story from a small Jammu village

Lavender farmers of Jammu

Lavender farmers of Jammu

Meet Bharat Bhushan of Khellani village in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir. The farmer switched from maize to lavender for his 2 acre plot nearly 20 years ago and has never looked back. By this November, he will be adding another 10 acres.

“I planted the crop for the first time in 2000 and the returns are four times what I used to get for maize,” he says.

Lavender flowers are harvested and processed to obtain oil, dry flowers and other valueadded products.

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The rise of herbs

The rise of herbs

Vidya Karan, another 2-acre farmer, in Sangla village in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district, has a multi-herb portfolio: ateesh, Rs 2.5-3 lakh per acre, rattan jot, Rs 1.15 lakh per acre, and karu, Rs 1.5-2 lakh per acre.

He points to another big advantage these crops give to growers. “We don’t have to water the herbs too much or spray fertilisers on it,” he says. This has allowed farming in areas where even one crop a year was tough on account of poor rainfall. Dabur works with farmers to grow medicinal plants like shankhapushpi in Barmer, Rajasthan.

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High demand

High demand

Led by strong and rapidly growing industry demand, a small group of farmers are earning as much as Rs 3 lakh per acre by cultivating herbs. This figure can be put in true perspective when you consider wheat and rice farming doesn’t pay more than Rs 30,000 per acre.

An average a farmer can earn Rs 60,000 per acre by growing herbs, provided there’d assured demand.

Many of the herbs have exotic names and pretty much all the numbers are remarkable. Ateesh, kuth, kutki, karanja, kapikachhu, shankhapushpi… these herbs and aromatic plants mean little to the urban consumer but represent life-changing income opportunities for some farmers.

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Brand conscious

Brand conscious

Herbs and aromatic plants used for ayurvedic medicines and personal care products – sold by companies like as Dabur, Himalaya, Natural Remedies, Patanjali – are the main ingredients of this farm earnings boom.

Patanjali’s CEO Acharya Balkrishna says the company is “helping farmers cultivate herbs on 40,000 acre”. Kutki, shatavari, and chirayata are on top of his list of best earners. And India has plenty of potential to grow this business, he says, because it is way behind China in production and there’s high global and domestic demand.

Big players are getting more involved. In 2017-18, Dabur, under its Bio-Resources Development programme, saw an increase of 25% in area under cultivation of medicinal herbs —more than 5,000 acres across 19 states, involving 2,400 farmer families, according to Dabur India CSR head A Sudhakar. Himalaya Drug Company works with over 800 farmers, covering over 3,500 acres.

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Quick returns

Quick returns

Industry estimates put the market for herbal products at Rs 50,000 crore, growing at a fast annual clip of 15%. Acreage devoted to herbs and aromatic plants is still very small — 6.34 lakh hectares out of the total currently cropped area of 1,058.1lakh hectares — but growing at 10% annually, according to government data.

Even more remarkable are farmers’ returns. A farmer growing ateesh herb, largely used in ayurvedic medicine, in the higher reaches of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh may easily get Rs 2.5-3 lakh per acre. A lavender farmer may get Rs 1.2-1.5 lakh returns per acre.

The Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine in Jammu has been promoting lavender and aromatic plants like rosemary, geranium and clary sage. “Demand for oils from these plants is coming from domestic companies dealing in perfumery and cosmetics,” says Ram Vishwakarma, director, IIIM.

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