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This Kashmiri Farmer Helps Others to Earn Rs 3 Lakh per hectare from Lavender

Bharat Bhushan, a pioneer in large scale cultivation of lavender in Kashmir, speaks about starting this trend a decade ago. He has influenced over 500 farmers to follow in his footsteps today.

Ayushi Raina
Bharat Bhushan on his Lavender Field with Workers
Bharat Bhushan on his Lavender Field with Workers

The snow-capped Himalayan Mountains comes to mind when one thinks about Jammu and Kashmir. However, Dal Lake, apple orchards, walnuts, mulberry, saffron, Chinar and Pine trees, roses, and even tulips can be found in our northernmost union territory.

Since 2010, acres of lavender peeping from the hills as one travels through Doda, Kishtwar districts, and Bhaderwah sub-district in J&K have added to the scenic beauty. The beauty of long stretches of 'purple' countryside will not fail to fascinate you.

Until recently, many people associated lavender with the gentle shade used to represent romance in photographs. Even now, some people can't tell the difference between the colour purple and the lavender plant. Lavender is still a lighter shade of purple for the majority of people. What they don't realise is that lavender is a perennial shrub in the mint family. Apart from being an ornamental plant, it is also a commercially valuable plant, with a kilo of oil extracted from the flowers selling for upwards of Rs.10000 and being mostly utilised in the aroma industry. The oil extraction residue is used to create agarbattis, soaps, and other products.

Motivated Farmers

Farmers in these areas believe they have struck gold. “Previously, we mainly planted maize and could hardly produce Rs.2500 per kanal [8 kanals=1 acre of land]. We generate around Rs.15000 per kanal every year through lavender growing and selling the oil extracted from it,” says 41-year-old Bharat Bhushan, a pioneer of sorts in large-scale lavender cultivation in this region. Despite the fact that he began the trend in 2010, more than 500 farmers are now following in his footsteps.

Qualities of Lavender

He says that cultivating this perennial crop, which grows to a height of about 2-2.5 feet, is quite simple. After you plant it, you don't have to do anything for the next 15 to 16 years except remove dried leaves and occasionally apply organic manure. Another advantage is that this crop is not attacked by animals such as monkeys, rats etc. Once the plant has bloomed, the flower stocks are cut, and the plant is ready to develop again the next season.

Farmers Realization

However, there are no returns in the first two years, which discouraged many farmers from harvesting lavender. However, it wasn't until the third year that they realised they were sitting on a goldmine. It is one of the finest cash crops in the world, with a farmer earning Rs.250000 to Rs.300000 per hectare, or roughly 20 kanals, each year with very low input. Farmers producing lavender in this region have land holdings ranging from 20 kanals to 600 kanals.

History & Uses of Lavender

Lavender is a native of the Mediterranean region and Europe. It was found around 2,500 years ago. It was utilized to make holy essence by the ancient Greeks, who named it nardus or Nard. The Bible mentions it in the 'Song of Solomon.' It was used as a scent by the Romans on their beds, in their bathwater, and so on. This practise is still done in many parts of the world today. To encourage quality sleep, little cotton pouches filled with dried lavender petals of the flower are stored in the pillow covers. Of course, the oil is utilised in perfume. And it is because of this that it is now grown on several continents.

Though the plant was found in some locations in India, it was primarily utilised as an ornamental plant in large public gardens or flower stocks in the hotel industry. The true value of lavender was realised when one of the scientists from CSIR-IIIM Jammu (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research — Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine Jammu) brought a few cuttings from Europe after attending an international conference somewhere in the late 1990s and planted them to conduct research.

According to Dr. Sumeet Gairola, senior scientist at CSIR-IIIM Jammu, the plant must be produced from a sapling grown from cuttings of quality lavender plants to maximize profit. “At IIIMJ, we give free QPM (quality planting material) to farmers who have land with acceptable cold climates and favorable growth conditions,” adds the scientist who actively provides technical assistance to farmers.

He keeps himself occupied, though, by travelling to remote lavender growing regions such as Tapri, Lehrote, Killar, Koundla, Himote, Dartingal, Butla, Nalthi, and a few more villages.

Organic Fertilizers

Bharat, who owns property on Khellani top in Lehrote village, goes on to explain, "Some of my purchasers from Mumbai, Delhi, and Jammu have urged us not to use chemical fertilisers since they harm the oil quality." So, if we use any, it must be entirely chemical-free organic fertilisers.”
The QPMs are cultivated in nurseries, and the quantity produced is limited. Until March 2020, IIIM Jammu delivered QPMs containing 6 lakh rooted plants to 500 farmers covering about 100 acres of land. They exclusively sell Kashmir lavender of the RRL-12 variety, which is most suited to grow in temperate climates with snowfall. Because the plant cannot withstand high soil wetness, it is best suited for this region's slopes, where around 18,000 plants may be seeded per hectare.

Dr. Gairole said, "As part of our Mission Aroma, our institute has also built oil distillation machinery at several locations to assist farmers in extracting lavender oil." Farmers in the Bhadarwah region produced more than 800 litres of oil worth Rs.80 lakh from 2018-2020.

The demand for lavender QPMs has grown so high that Bharat has opened his own nursery. “I have three nurseries, one of which includes multiple polyhouses. I prepare and sell the saplings for Rs.5 each. From November to March, we utilise these nurseries to produce saplings, and from April onwards, I plant vegetable varieties that earn me close to Rs.3 lakh to Rs.4 lakh every year,” he adds, adding, “Moreover, these nurseries provide employment.” I hire 20 women from nearby villages and give them Rs.400 per day.”

Farmers in these districts, who are accustomed to the hardships of living on hills and they have to trudge almost 4-5 kms. two to three times a day to reach motorable roads, are overjoyed with their new crop and the changes it is bringing to the region.

Nonetheless, the youth still aspire to work for the government in the army, police, or banking. “Lavender is inspiring our youngsters to return to farming,” Bharat says, with a big smile.

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