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. 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. 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.