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Special Content

Issue no 45, 04-10 February 2023

Purple Revolution and the Future it Holds

Irtif Lone

In Jammu and Kashmir, a 'Purple Revolution' is unfolding with lavender cultivation gaining momentum, resulting in a fledgling ecosystem for the lucrative aroma business. The Government of India is working on a strategy to help farmers look beyond subsistence agriculture by leveraging the special agro-climatic conditions of Jammu and Kashmir and regions having similar topographical and climatic features. It will not only secure high returns for farmers but will also lay the foundation for agri-businesses and StartUps, thereby creating entrepreneurial and employment opportunities for people of the region.

What is Lavender?: Lavender plants are small aromatic shrubs with grey-green leaves and long flowering shoots. The shoots rapidly branch out and produce purple/violet/ lilac coloured flowers. The fragrance derived from the plant is used around the globe in aroma businesses like perfumes, cosmetics, and aromatherapy and as alternative medicine for curing certain ailments. Hence, lavender is mainly cultivated for the purpose of extracting its essential oil, which is obtained by the distillation of the stem or spikes on which the flowers bloom. Lavender cultivation is not very complex as they require relatively low amounts of light, soils that drain well. They are sensitive to water-logging, hence they flourish when planted on slopes. The plants are robust enough to withstand light to moderate frost and occasional snow, and they blossom beautifully in locations that are generally chilly. Given the fact that lavender can thrive in both cold and moderately warm temperatures, the environment of Jammu and Kashmir is ideally suited for the plant's cultivation. It does not require a lot of irrigation and are by and large pest resistant. Lavender, in all of its forms (dry flowers, oil, and left-over water of distillation process), is vitally essential raw materials for the fragrance and cosmetics industry, in addition to the pharmaceutical sector. Therefore, the market for lavender products has a significant amount of untapped potential.

Aroma Mission: In 2016, the Union Ministry of Science and Technology through the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) launched "Aroma Mission." Since then, thousands of farmers in almost all of Jammu and Kashmir's twenty districts have started growing lavender. The mission's objective is to promote the cultivation of aromatic plants for the production of essential oils, which are in great demand. The strategy primarily involves bringing an area of at least 60,000 hectares under cultivation of these crops by interventions of CSIR. This will help in production of an additional 700 tonnes of essential oil for perfumery, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, and use of these oils in value addition and herbal products would generate a business of at least Rs 200 crores. It will also allow farmers to increase their earnings and gradually become global leaders in the production and export of essential oils. This mission is also involved in establishing a platform for agroadvisory and guaranteeing fair prices and maximum productivity for farmers.

Lavender Farming in Jammu and Kashmir: In Jammu and Kashmir, thousands of farmers have embraced the Purple Revolution. According to the most recent statistics, Doda district alone is home to more than 400 farmers cultivating lavender on more than 450 acres of land. After switching from growing maize to lavender over the past years, they have seen a significant increase in their income. Each hectare of land may provide between thirty and forty litres of lavender oil when it is extracted. The assistance in marketing lavender goods is being provided by IIIM-Jammu (Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine) to farmers in Jammu and Kashmir. The CSIR-IIIM Jammu has already developed four distillation units in Doda, and there are plans in place to create two more in the near future. The CSIRIIIM started the second phase of the Aroma Mission in February of 2021. Within the following three years, the cultivation of lavender is expected to increase by 1500 hectares.' One litre of oil extracted from lavender may fetch alteast Rs 12,000 to the farmers. Incense sticks are produced by using the water that is left over after lavender oil has been extracted. The hydrosol that is produced as a by-product of distilling the flowers is utilised in the production of soaps as well as air fresheners.

CSIR Improved Field Distillation Units: To ensure better quality products, CSIR laboratories have created enhanced directly-fired field machines for distillation of lavender. These field distillation machines are more effective and produce essential oils of higher grade. The calandria evaporators that are integrated into the distillation units contribute to an increase in the rate of steam generation, which results in a greater amount of oil being recovered. CSIR Improved Field Distillation Units have been successfully marketed, and various farmers, entrepreneurs, and enterprises around the nation have had them installed them.

Opportunities in Lavender Farming: The cultivation of lavender is an excellent profit-making opportunity. In the perfume and cosmetics sectors, lavender oil is a significant raw material. Lavender oil is also used in aromatherapy. The plant itself is also utilised in a wide variety of culinary preparations. In addition, lavender has a wide variety of therapeutic characteristics and may be utilised in the production of teas and other products having health benefits. There is high demand for products containing lavender both within India and globally. In Jammu and Kashmir, in particular, lavender farming is excellent for profits because the region has the ideal conditions for growing lavender. Lavender plants require very little maintenance and can be grown quickly. In order to get started, farmers need to purchase quality lavender seeds or seedlings. If they are cared for properly, lavender plants may live for an average of 12 years and remain healthy and prolific during that time. There have been documented instances of lavender plants maintaining a remarkable level of output for in excess of 20 years.

Lavender Harvesting: The first year of a lavender plant's life is characterised by sluggish growth; hence, many growers choose to harvest the blooming stems before the initial buds have fully opened. During the summer when the lavender is typically harvested, there are two general rules - (i) pick a day that is clear, cloudless, and has a comfortable temperature. The quality of the finished product will suffer if there is any chance of precipitation on the day of the harvest or even two to three days before that. Because extreme heat and strong winds both encourage the evaporation of essential oil, output can be low if the temperature becomes too high or the wind picks up. (ii) The harvesting of lavender for its essential oil occurs around 5-10 days before the harvesting of lavender for its flower stems.

Lavender Products: Lavender can be sold in many different forms, including dried, fresh, or processed products.

Lavender Oil: Fragrant oil is extracted by using the nectar that is harvested from the flowering plant. After it has been diluted, the oil may be used for aromatherapy by massaging it into the skin, putting it in a diffuser, or applying it to a cotton swab or pillow and then inhaling it. Steam distillation is the method that is used to generate pure lavender essential oil. When compared to other processes, this one results in the production of a significant quantity of oil due to the decreased loss of polar compounds.

Lavender Flower: The lavender flower produces a pleasant scent while adding vibrant colour to a garden. The harvesting of this stunning and fragrant crop is an exciting experience in and of itself. It is also possible to sell it in the market as a fresh flower in its natural state or dried flowers for making potpourri.

Lavender Tea: Lavender can also be used to make a soothing drink that reportedly reduces anxiety and makes it easier to fall asleep. Lavender can be brewed by simply steeping fresh lavender buds in water and boiling for a few minutes.

Conclusion: Lavender has a variety of beneficial characteristics that may be attributed to its essential oil, which is obtained by steam distilling the flowers. Lavender may be utilised in a wide variety of commercial applications, including the production of soaps, high-quality fragrances, candles, incense, potpourri, wands, pillows, flower bundles, dried arrangements, wall hangings, and more. In addition, lavender is utilised in the cleaning and deodorising processes. The fragrant leaves and blooms are utilised in the preparation of potpourri and as an insect repellent in linen closets. Additionally, it is utilised in the production of bathing products like as shampoo, soap, bath oil, lotion, and bath salt. Because of its calming quality and low risk of side effects, it has found widespread application in the manufacture of cosmetic products. Hence, the cultivation of lavender has the potential to be a satisfying and monetarily gratifying agricultural endeavour; nevertheless, in order to be successful in this kind of operation, thorough study and a strong grasp of the market for lavender products are required.

(The author works with the Government of J&K with more than 10 years of experience, encompassing entrepreneurship development in Jammu & Kashmir. E-mail id : irtiflone@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.