The snow-capped Himalayan mountains come to mind when one thinks of Jammu and Kashmir. However, Dal Lake, apple orchards, walnuts, mulberries, saffron, Chinar and Pines, roses, and even tulips can be found in our northernmost union territory.
Since 2010, hectares of lavender have sprung up from the hills as you cross Doda, Kishtwar districts, and Bhaderwah sub-district of J&K added to the beauty of the landscape. The beauty of the long expanses of ‘purple’ the countryside is sure to fascinate you.
Until recently, many people associated lavender with the soft hue used to represent romance in photographs. Even now, some people cannot tell the difference between the color purple and the lavender plant. Lavender is still a lighter shade of purple for the majority of people. What they don’t realize is that lavender is a perennial shrub in the mint family. In addition to being a ornamental plant, it is also a commercially valuable plant, with a kilo of oil extracted from the flowers selling for up to Rs. 10,000 and being mainly used in the flavoring industry. The residue from petroleum extraction is used to create agarbattis, soaps, and others products.
Farmers in these areas believe they have found gold. “Before, we mainly planted corn and could barely produce Rs. 2,500 per channel [8 kanals=1 acre of land]. We generate around Rs. 15000 per channel every year thanks to the cultivation of lavender and the sale extracted oil from there ”, says Bharat Bhushan, 41 years old, a kind of pioneer of the great lavender cultivation in this region. Despite the fact that he started the trend in 2010, more than 500 farmers now follow in his footsteps.
Qualities of lavender
He says growing this perennial crop, which reaches heights of around 2 to 2.5 feet, is pretty straightforward. After you plant it, you don’t have to do anything for the next 15-16 years except remove the dried leaves and occasionally apply organic manure. Another advantage is that this culture is not attacked by animals such as monkeys, rats, etc. Once the plant has flowered, the flower stems are cut and the plant is ready to develop again the following season.
Achievement of farmers
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 realized they were sitting on a gold mine. It is one of the the best cash crops in the world, with a winning farmer Rs 250,000 To 300,000 rupees per hectare, or about 20 kanals, each year with very low input. Lavender farmers in this region own land ranging from 20 channels To 600 channels.
History and uses of lavender
Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region and Europe. It was found around 2,500 years ago. It was used to make holy gasoline by the ancient Greeks, who called it nardus or Nard. The Bible mentions it in the ‘Song of Solomon.’ It was used as a perfume by the Romans on their beds, in their bath water, etc. This practice is still practiced in many parts of the world today. To promote quality sleep, small cotton pouches filled with the flower’s dried lavender petals are stored in the pillow cases. Of course, the oil is used in perfume. And it is because of this that it is now cultivated on several continents.
Although the plant was found in some places in India, it was mainly used as an ornamental in large public gardens or in flower stocks in the hospitality industry. The true value of lavender was realized when one of the scientists at CSIR-IIIM Jammu (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine Jammu) brought some cuttings from Europe after attending an international conference some left in the late 1990s and planted them to conduct research.
According to Dr Sumeet Gairola, Senior Scientist at CSIR-IIIM Jammu, the plant should be produced from a young tree grown from cuttings from quality lavender plants to maximize profits. “TO IIIMJ, we give for free QPM (quality planting material) to farmers who have land with acceptable cold climates and favorable growing conditions, ”adds the scientist who actively provides technical assistance to farmers.
He remains busy, however, traveling to remote lavender growing areas such as Tapri, Lehrote, Killar, Koundla, Himote, Dartingal, Butla, Nalthi and a few other villages.
Bharat, who owns an estate at the top of Khellani in the village of Lehrote, goes on to explain: “Some of my buyers from Mumbai, Delhi and Jammu have urged us not to use chemical fertilizers as they affect the quality of the oil.” So if we use any, it must be organic fertilizer that is completely chemical-free.
QPMs are grown in nurseries, and the quantity produced is limited. Until March 2020, IIIM Jammu delivered QPMs containing 6 lakh of rooted plants to 500 farmers covering around 100 acres of land. They exclusively sell Kashmiri lavender of the RRL-12 variety, which is most suitable for growing in temperate climates with snowfall. Because the plant cannot withstand high soil moisture, it is best suited to the slopes of this region, where around 18,000 plants can be sown per hectare.
Dr Gairole said, “As part of our Aroma Mission, our institute has also built oil distillation machines in several locations to help farmers extract lavender oil.” Farmers in the Bhadarwah region produced more than 800 liters of oil worth Rs.80 lakh of 2018-2020.“
The demand for lavender QPM got so high that Bharat opened his own nursery. “I have three nurseries, one of which includes several polymers. I prepare and sell the saplings for Rs.5 each. From November to March we use these nurseries to produce saplings, and from April I plant varieties of vegetables that bring me close to Rs.3 lakh to Rs.4 lakh every year, ”he adds, adding:“ In addition, these nurseries offer use. “I hire 20 women from neighboring villages and give them 400 rupees a day.
The farmers of these districts, accustomed to the difficulties of life on the hills, have to travel nearly 4 to 5 km. two to three times a day to reach the motorable roads, are delighted with their new harvest and the changes it brings to the region.
Nevertheless, young people still aspire to work for the government in the army, the police or the bank. “Lavender inspires our young people to return to farming,”Said Bharat, with a big smile.