The word “lac” originated from the Sanskrit word Laksha, meaning a hundred thousand and refers to many insects that cover twigs of host trees and are involved in its production. Every one of us might be familiar with the word Lakshagreh in Mahabarta which was made from resins of Lac insects. Lac has been used in India for centuries as a source of red colored dye and decorative coatings, having its mention in the Atharva Veda, ancient holy literature in India composed during 1200-900 BC. Historical records from the 12th to 16th centuries indicate that lac was used to decorate public buildings, waxing lemon and oranges, finish furniture, wood polishing, and repair broken pottery and jewellery in China, Europe and India. However, the first export of lac dye to Europe was in 1607, which flourished until the 19th century with the advent of aniline dyes. After that, the lac resin was taken up for export, especially in the gramophone industry, varnishes, medicines, etc. the use of lac is now diversified in many fields. However, despite the many benefits of lac the availability of synthetic alternatives at cheaper rates led to a decline in the demand for lac in non-food application areas.
Nevertheless, in recent times, due to the increasing awareness of the people towards the natural products, lac and lac-based products are again in high demand worldwide. This insects belonging to Kerria genus is under threat due to the disappearance owing to intensive agriculture, pressure of modernization, increasing deforestation and climate changes Local lac insect genetic resources of the country are disappearing with an alarming rate due to loss of their local habitat. Therefore, creating awareness about the beneficial role of productive insects in human life and ecosystem is the need of the hour. This is why the National Lac day is being celebrated at National level on 16th May every year. . Celebration of National Lac Insect Day is a significant step to achieve this goal in this direction particularly important in the light of predicted global climate change, and the ability of microbial and insect parasites to evolve and adapt to modern chemical control methods.
Revival of lac insect is therefore very crucial in Jammu region. Not long ago, collection (gathering) of lac was carried out practically throughout the country including Jammu & Kashmir which contributed significantly to conservation of local lac strains, but now its share is almost negligible. Furher Lac was naturally marketed to Sialkot from Jammu region before 1947 because it was used by Hakeem for medicine and goldsmiths for making ornament molds Therefore, was an important source of income for livelihood of forest and sub forest dwellers especially in Kandi areas of Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory. Lac insect genetic resources exist in the form of a vast array of populations which have evolved and adapted over many centuries to the range of environmental conditions encountered throughout the country resulting in several breeds, types and strains each with their own genetic make-up and each adapted to its own specific niche. The lac insect genetic resources available throughout the country are under threat due to the disappearance of a substantial number of local populations as many lac insects and associated fauna have been abandoned or its habitat destroyed. The future improvement and development of lac insect is dependent upon the availability of this genetic variation, which is its principal resource.
Natural occurrences of lac insect, locally called as korh in J&K was well established particularly on ber plant and people used to collect and sell it commercially. Interestingly, this Union Territory is bestowed with ample of lac host plants, Promoting and encouraging lac culture in Jammu region will not only check environmental degradation, but also conserve associated fauna and flora for posterity. Such conservation efforts are being done Under the “Network Project on Conservation of Lac Insect Genetic Resources” ICAR-NISA (Indian Council of Agricultural Research- National Institute of Secondary Agriculture) Ranchi, SKUAST Jammu is actively engaged In conservation and Small scale multi locational field trials in collaboration with NISA at Jammu region The initial results showed that J&K could act as a vital centre for revival of lac cultivation with highest yield of brood lac. Creating awareness about the beneficial role of productive insects in human life and ecosystem is the need of the hour in order to conserve them. From the past ten years, conservation initiatives enhanced the frequency of natural occurrence of lac insect in the region from 0,22 to 13.5 per cent Therefore it cultivation can be revived for the benefit of farming community of the region by scientific cultivation through systematic intervention. In view of fast shrinking area of lac cultivation elsewhere in the country, the region has been earmarked as a “green area” for conservation of biodiversity of the lac insect ecosystem. Jammu. Based on ground realities, it has been realized that the vast area of Jammu region (Jammu, Kathua and Samba districts) i.e., southern plains of Jammu region known as Kandi belt (Rainfed areas) are bestowed with lac host plants viz., Ber, Palas and Ficus.
Therefore, it warrants cultivation of lac on commercial scale through large scale demonstration and extensive training programmes for the rural people of the area as well as extension workers at frequent intervals. It can be a good source of three commercially important products i.e., lac resin, lac dye and lac wax. Lac resin has got innumerable uses; in surface coating due to its film forming property, electrical industries due to its insulation properties, fruit and vegetable coating for increasing the shelf life, cosmetics and also in pharmaceutical industries. Lac resin is source of many important chemicals including aleuritic acid which is used in cosmetic industries mainly for manufacturing perfumes. Lac dye is another important compound having potential in food, dyeing and medicinal fields. Lac dye has been used in traditional medicines and few recently published literatures shows its potential as an anti-cancer agent. Although, lac based products have numerous applications and potential for earning foreign exchange, emphasis needs to be laid on value addition for import substitution of lac based products.
(The author is Professor cum chief-scientist Division of Entomology Faculty of Agriculture, Chatha SKUAST-Jammu)