Dr Narinder Paul, Dr AS Charak
It was a moment of joy for the people of J&K when 42-year old farmer Bharat Bhushan was selected for the prestigious ‘Innovative Farmer Award’ by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.
“Having interaction with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi via video conferencing was the most exciting experience and those were the treasurable moments of my life. While Prime Minister focuses on doubling the farmers’ income, I told him that I have increased my farm income four times. He became happy and said that people like me could achieve the targets of 2022. It gave me immense strength and motivation to further expand my interest and channelize my efforts for promotion of lavender cultivation in Doda District”, narrates Bharat Bhushan, a 43 years old matriculation level educated progressive farmer from Lehrote, a remote village of district Doda.
Lehrote, a small uphill village in tehsilBhalla of District Doda lies at distance of 23 Km from the District headquarters and 5.5 Kms from tehsil headquarters. It is a remote village with meager infrastructural facilities and no motor able road as the road connecting the village has not been constructed yet and the villagers have to trek uphill on 2-3 feet wide 2.5 Kms Kaccha path on foot to reach the village. It comprises of 35 households having 62.37 percent literacy rate as per 2011 census.
Significantly, over the last 8 years, this village has gained recognition as the prime lavender producing village, an innovation diffusion center and essential lavender oil producing hub in the district. With the dent of hard work by the progressive farmers turned lavender growers, the village has gained national importance and spreading the aroma of benefits of lavender cultivation elsewhere. Country first heard the name of the village when Bharat Bhushan one of its progressive farmers held videoconferencing talk with the Prime MinisterNarendraModiwhich was witnessed by the people across the country.
Lavender is a perennial shrub and strong scented bushy plant prized for its fragrance, medicinal properties and beautiful colour. It is commercially grown primarily for its flowers used for extraction of essential oil which is used in cosmetics and perfumes besides having numerous other uses. The most common form in cultivation is the common or English lavender. Planted during February to April, it is propagated primarily through cuttings. It bears flowers twice a year i,e, during June and during September. June flowering is prominent and in abundance while September flowering is about one-fifth of June flowering. Flowers from a kanal area produce on an average 3-4 litres of essential oil.
Bharat Bhushan, an innovative farmer from village Lehrote initiated the commercial cultivation of lavender in the District. It was during the year 2010 when he came to know about lavender cultivation in a kissan mela held at Bhaderwah. He developed immense interest in it and with the guidance of experts started its cultivation in 2011. He tells, “I started lavender cultivation in 2 kanal of my land during 2011 for which I bought the planting material @ Rs 5/plant”. Initially he did not get the promising results. During that year, he even did not get the oil extracted from the flowers. With the multiplication of the plants, he increased his area under lavender cultivation to4 kanals. During the year 2012, he obtained 2 litres of lavender oil but could not get its buyer. Next year he produced 6 litres of oil and sold it @ 6500 per litre. With the increase in the area under lavender cultivation, presently he has 20 kanals land under the crop. Moreover, he has also taken another 30 kanals land on lease in the village for undertaking lavender cultivation. Besides, he has also established a lavender nursery at village Khelleni top on 2 kanals of land taken on lease.
Inspired by his success, other farmers also started lavender cultivation. For the fellow farmers, he acted as personal localite source of information and innovation as well. In village Lehrote itself there are 18 households who are undertaking lavender cultivation on 150 kanal of land with an annual turnover of more than 18 lakhs from the essential oil and 6 lakh from the planting material. Presently lavender oil is sold @ Rs 10000-12000 per litre. With the passage of time, adjoining villages have also come forward and lavender cultivation has started in more than 28 villages in the district. Gouda, Bhara, Khelleni, Tepri, Dugli, Draphara, Galli ,Malothi, Gajothe, Neota, Drudu, Gutasa, Souta, Dandi etc. are some of the villages where its cultivation has started over the years.
While elaborating the constraints encountered during his entire journey, Bharat Bhushan tells that the major constraints initially was marketing but that was sorted out when direct marketing links for selling essential oil and dry flowers were established with the firms outside the state. Another biggest constraint was the non-availability of the oil extraction unit for which the farmers had to run from pillar to post to get the oil extracted. Many times delay in oil extraction resulted in the deterioration of the flowers and reduction in the quality and quantity of oil extracted.
During the year 2017, he purchased and established an oil extraction unit at the village Khelleni on a 2 marla rented piece of land for which he pays Rs 6000/year. It has eased the problem and made possible the extraction of essential oil at the door steps not only for him but also for other lavender growing farmers of the area. Earlier, they had to lift the dried bundles to other places for extraction of oil. He could not get that unit installed at his owned land in his village or home due to non-availability of motor able road to get it transported there. He hopes to shift the unit to his land once the road gets constructed in the future.
Due to growing interest of Doda farmers in lavender cultivation, there has become huge demand for its planting material. Establishment of lavender nursery has also become a potent enterprise for the youth as one can earn 3-4 lakh per kanal per year through its nursery. Besides essential oil, fresh spikes of lavender and dried lavender flowers can also be sold which fetches good price. Farmers, farm women and rural youth have become engaged in lavender cultivation in the district and it has become remunerative vocation becoming popular day by day among them during the last few years.Recently Bharat Bhushan has been conferred with prestigious Indian Agriculture Research Institute(IARI) Innovative Farmer Award 2020 during Pusa Krishi Vigyan Mela 2020 held at IARI New Delhi during 1-3 March, 2020 for his immense contribution in introducing and popularizing innovative interventions in agriculture sector.
Adoption and integration of lavender cultivation to the existing farming system by the remote and far-flung farmers of the district Doda heralds an innovative means of exploring the farmers’capabilities. It exhibits the professional prowess of farming community of the district who is willing to learn and adopt the innovative interventions to strengthen their farming systems in achieving similar remunerative progress in the agriculture sector. This marks the beginning of a new era in the agriculture sector where mono-cropping based agriculture system has successfully been supplemented withthe multiple options including lavender cultivation for extraction of essential oils, nursery raising and other viable opportunities in the agriculture sector.
Efforts to set up a lavender Farmers’ Producer Organization is on anvil which would help in organizing the otherwise unorganized growers and their innate potential and possibilities in the lavender cultivation can be leveraged for furtherance of this agro-enterprise to other villages of the district. Besides, efforts are underway to bring this innovative approach closer to the more number of farmers in other villages of the district as there is an immense potential in it to provide employment and raising their farm income. Pluristic extension efforts need to be strengthened to expedite wide spread adoption of lavender cultivation in the district for enabling the fruits of this agriculture technology reach the potential farmers of the district especially the ones who are at the farthest end of the developmental spectrum.
(The authors are from Krishi Vigyan Kendra Doda, SKUAST Jammu)