The Rain Came for the Lemongrass
The fields are resting now. Last month during May, in the Malgaon village of Chhattisgarh, lemongrass was harvested and oil distilled for the second time. The next round will begin in the middle of July, when the seasons change and new rains come.
Ten farmers had started to cultivate lemongrass for oil distillation led by Ghanshyam Upadhyaya, Amrita SeRVe’s agriculture front man. Lemongrass was a new acquaintance for the farmers, so only the most experimental ones took the chance and discovered it was worth the risk.
In the beginning, the lemongrass oil project in the village started under the guidance of CSIR-CIMAP and Amrita SeRVe. CIMAP is the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, which is a frontier plant research laboratory for the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). They have over 75 years of experience dedicating their work and service toward the empowerment of farmers all over India.
The project started January 2017 at the annual Farmers Fair of CSIR-CIMAP in Lucknow. The lemongrass distillation idea was discussed by Dr. Sanjay Kumar, senior scientist at CSIR-CIMAP, Amrita SeRVe’s agricultural coordinator Ghanshyam and the Malgaon village coordinator Jamuna Kashyap, and subsequently Malgaon was chosen as the first village to start the initiative. Soon after the celebrations, they returned to the village and discussed the idea with the farmers.
“Initially, the farmers were very nervous to start such a new project,” explains Jamuna. “They didn’t know anything about lemongrass and they were hesitating to form a group and start lemongrass cultivation,” she continues. Jamuna and Ghanshyam were determined and talked to the sarpanch (head of the village). With the help of the sarpanch, they learned about possibly interested farmers and decided to talk to the farmers personally. Ghanshyam called for a meeting of all the farmers and they ultimately agreed to start the cultivation.
Village coordinator Jamuna recalls that they started planting the lemongrass just before the rains came in April. Initially they were facing some challenges because of a lack of rain. This meant that Jamuna and the farmers went out into the fields to water the plants twice a day. After a few weeks like this, suddenly the early monsoon started and all plants became healthy and the farmers were relieved!
Throughout the farming period of the lemongrass, senior scientists from CSIR-CIMAP offered their guidance on cultivation. CIMAP talked with the farmers in their fields, did filming and field-testing, checked the quality of the lemongrass plants and compared the yield of each farmer. Those farmers who had lower yields, CIMAP encouraged to cultivate more.
When the lemongrass was ready to be harvested, Ghanshyam taught the distillation part to the farmers as he had learned the technique during his studies. The system works using water and steam distillation. Firewood is used for heating the distillation unit, which CSIR-CIMAP helped to install. Ghanshyam asked the farmers to join the process and then demonstrated how it is done. Now these farmers can do it independently and many more are interested to learn.
Lemongrass oil is good additional income
The main income for the farmers in Malgaon is rice and dal (lentil) cultivation. According to Jamuna, the annual average income is between 55,000 – 60,000 rupees per year, when the weather conditions have been suitable for growing. Same for the lemongrass; when conditions are favorable, and lemongrass is distilled and sold, it can increase the income for the farmers to almost the same amount of rupees.
“This time, the maximum yield happened to a farmer and he earned 15,000 rupees for a half acre of lemongrass cultivation,” tells Jamuna. “If it is a full acre, a farmer could be earning 30,000 plus,” she counts. Farmers are the backbone of the community. Usually there are 6-7 family members living in the same household. Some members of the family are doing daily labor, but are still depending on a farmer, explains Jamuna.
CSIR-CIMAP is helping with finding markets for the distilled and bottled oil. Village coordinator Jamuna says that the farmers are very happy about this cultivation and their earnings. Despite challenges in the beginning, many new farmers are coming to ask about lemongrass cultivation. They want to join the farmers’ group and want to start lemongrass cultivation as well.
For example, in the nearby village of Deurbal, farmers are motivated by this success story and are also showing interest to start. “Soon we will start lemongrass cultivation in Deurbal village too,” Jamuna reveals. “Every harvest time more or less 10 farmers have showed their interest to start. Right now, about 40-50 farmers are involved with the lemongrass cultivation. Those who started in December 2017, and also newly joined farmers are participating now,” Jamuna concludes.
- an aromatic perennial plant
- grows up to one-meter (3 ft) length
- known for fragrance and used in soaps and cosmetics
- medicinal uses: for example in treating cough
* Collaboration between CSIR-CIMAP and Amrita SeRVe started in December 2016 when director Dr. Sanjay Kumar came to Amritapuri to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Amrita SeRVe in Amma’s presence.
Amma requested guidance for farmers to increment their earnings and contribute to the nation’s development. In response, Dr. Sanjay Kumar told on behalf of the whole research center that they consider themselves verily blessed to be able to contribute to village work across the country.