SHEIKH UMAR AHMAD
Lavender is one of the most prestigious cash crops the of world, grown for it’s essential oil with utility in medicine, cosmetics, perfumery and in aroma-therapy. True Lavender oil distilled from the flowering spikes is the best oil of high aroma value and has a commanding position in varied biotechnological applications. It is the spa therapist’s dream oil, the oil with answer to most of our needs, popularly used today as in the past with little modification in the form of use and applications.
It is used as a component of many perfumery products and other creations due to typical lavender note. Pure oil has substantial use in aromatherapy, traditionally used as antibacterial, antifungal, carminative, sedative, anti depressive and effective against burns and insect bites. Other products like lavender concrete, lavender absolute, lavender water and dried lavender flowers have an ever growing demand. Lavender marc left after the distillation of oil is used in agarbaties, soaps and as organic manure. Lavender processing gives multiple end products that has various commercial applications, thus increasing the market value of this crop and the wealth that can be generated through its cultivation and processing.
Lavender belongs to Genus Lavendula which is represented by 39 species and 17 hybrids. However, from a commercial point of view, only four species have economic importance. Of them, Lavendula angustifolia syn. L. officinalis commonly known as English Lavender and formerly known as L. vera and Lavendula latifolia, commonly known as spike lavender have achieved economic importance on account of their high oil content and better rooting qualities. True lavender (Lavendula angustifolia Chaix. syn. L officinalis) is the most valued of all lavender species both for its high quality oil and as garden plant. It is a perennial bushy shrub 50-80 cm tall with attractive flowers borne in short compact to long interrupted spikes on a distinct and unbranched peduncle.
The flowers are usually of violet –blue to purple shade. The plant produces flowers once in a year for 30-40 days during June and July. Lavender is a hardy temperate plant and grows well in well cooled temperatures and moderately warm summers and needs minimum irrigation. Areas without an impact of winter having high temperature are not suitable for its cultivation. As lavender grows best in agro-climatic conditions of Kashmir, a minimum of one or two irrigations are required during the rain free period. The plant is cultivated in France, U.K, Bulgaria, New Zealand, Hungary, Australia, China, Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, former Yugoslavia, Morocco, India and to a limited extent in U.S.A for oil and agri-tourism as lavender tours and festivals conducted in lavender parks are becoming popular.
Bulgarian and Kashmir lavender(s) are consider the best one’s and are more or less similar in various physio-chemical and other properties thus, have created an international market place for their high quality essential oil. The Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine Jammu and it’s Srinagar branch (erstwhile Regional Research Laboratory) has developed a variety having high oil content and excellent quality profile and is now branded as Kashmir Lavender in the international market and is highly suitable for temperate conditions of Kashmir.
The quality profile of lavender (L. angustifolia) which is being grown at extension centre in district Pulwama and at many other places both in Jammu as well as in Kashmir, locally as well commercially is at par with the international standards and is being used in the Indian market. The oil is also sold in UK market right now in a limited quantity and has been approved by the user industry.
Lavender blossoms in Kashmir in the last week of June and continues till end of July. Though, there is later flowering in the month of November and is not economical for processing of lavender oil. The flowers during that period are collected, dried and sold as such. Harvesting of flowers is done by a sharp sickle on bright sunny days when 50-60% florets are open. Herbage will go on increase if proper cultural practices are followed.
Flowers are immediately distilled in a still operated by a boiler for lavender oil. The herb yield declines after 12-15 years of planting and plantation needs to be rejuvenated for this purpose. Lavender can be suitable integrated with apple as an intercrop. The freshly laid apple orchards take several years to come to fruiting. During this lean period of 6-7 years, there are no direct returns from the land and it will permit increased harvest per unit, better economic returns for the farming community.
In addition, land that is rocky or barren and not previously used for any extensive agricultural practice can be suitably taken under lavender cultivation for high economical output. As with Lavender, the initial investment is the plantation and processing for lavender oil thereof which require a steam distillation unit. Actual benefits are obtained after the 2nd year of plantation.
The CSIR IIIM Jammu and it’s Kashmir branch under the National Aroma Mission under aegis of CSIR for catalyzing rural empowerment through cultivation, processing, value addition and marketing of aromatic plants provide farmers and other aspiring entrepreneurs with incentives for its cultivation and processing and has already local entrepreneurs for lavender oil by providing technical knowhow and quality planting material.
Lavender oil needs to be stored safely to retain its potency or the active chemical profile. It should be free from moisture, stored in well tightly closed containers at low temperatures and away from light. The oil should be packed in coloured glass bottles, amber blue or preferably in aluminum bottles. Caps of the bottles should not be off for longer periods as the oil is volatile. It has been reported that lavender oil stored under proper conditions remains pretty good even after 15 years.
CSIR IIIM Jammu’s mission is to encourage progressive farmers to shift traditional crop cultivation to lavender cultivation for high cost benefit ratio. These provide aspiring farmers with all the required technical knowhow for boosting this agro-technology in valley that holds immense potential for its end to end market value and commercialization. This crop can be grown individually and processed mutually through buy-back schemes with farmers. The business requires least input in the form of money but requires highest efforts for end stage profit return.
Lavender in Kashmir can be the only crop that can hold monopoly over cultivation of other crops and be a boon to the farming community to rise from traditional methods of extensive farming practices to intensive mode of farming that require least input in the form of labour, fertilizers s and capital relative to the land area being farmed. Also, there is worldwide slogan to use lavender and rose products based on organic and biodynamic methods. Organically certified lavender and rose products fetch higher price in the international market.
Incentives in the form of training, financial assistance and technical expertise during plantation, cultivation, distillation and more in marketing of lavender and other culinary herb oils growing best in agro-climatic conditions of Kashmir can become a potential and prospective crop for agribusiness in Kashmir for both the unemployed and progressive farmers of the valley, besides a hot destination for eco-tourism by establishing lavender parks and lavender festivals.
Degraded forest land and fallow lands will be ideal for the cultivation of lavender and rose. Establishment of lavender parks by CSIR IIIM at Aru valley of Pahalgam and at other places for salutary effects on the environment and as potential eco-tourism building strategy will help in uplifting the morale of otherwise depressed farmers that are marred, at times, by floods or either by drought and much to the chagrin of unemployed educated youth of Kashmir valley, the rising unemployment that has trapped the state in a state of quagmire and chaos.
—The author is a PhD Research scholar (DST INSPIRE Fellow) at CSIR IIIM, Jammu. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org