Kashmir's ambitious lavender plantations come up against market barriers

Kashmir's ambitious lavender plantations come up against market barriers

Kashmir's ambitious lavender plantations come up against market barriers

A relatively new entrant in the farming sector in Kashmir, lavender cultivation struggles to find a foothold, with the lack of proper market avenues proving detrimental to the lucrative agribusiness.

Kashmir: Sheraz Ahmad, a 36-year-old farmer from the Kulgam district of south Kashmir, received praise from the village Panchayat for adopting organic farming of lavender in 0.37 acres of his land, a practice they think would inspire others to follow and earn a better livelihood.

The Panchayat has assured lavender crop farmers that they would plan and help cultivate the cash crop at the grassroots and community levels. They started a campaign using Ahmad's project as a pilot advertisement for others to follow, besides promising help from banks and other government offices. However, Ahmad remains apprehensive of its prospects due to a lack of proper channels and markets to sell the produce. Besides, this sector is still in its infancy, and many are reluctant to join in this experimental phase.

"Farmers fear losses that might occur if they cultivate lavender on a mass scale on their farms and fields. Where will they sell their produce as there is no functional flower mandi? Neither is the government providing them with a facility nor is there a viable plan to sell their produce in time," Ahmad told 101Reporters.

In 2014, while preparing to be a civil servant, Ahmad was motivated to enter the aromatic farming sector. As a student, he had learned about the scope of the fragrance industry at the international level and thus decided to invest in this sector. "It was worth a shot, but the market remains a big concern. If only the government works on the market management, then Kashmir will be a game-changer in lavender production in the whole of South Asia," he rallied.

Growing potential

Kashmir provides the best climatic conditions conducive to lavender plantations as it grows well in cold temperatures and moderately warm summers and needs one or two irrigations during the rain-fed periods. This cash crop has a gestation period of two years before reaching economic productivity. Lavender oil distilled from flowering spikes possesses a high aroma that holds a commanding position in perfumery, flavour and cosmetic industries. It is also used in anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, carminative, sedative, anti-depressive medications and is effective for burns and insect bites. According to scientists in Kashmir, the cosmetic, fragrance, and medical industries need lavender, both for its oil and its dried flowers.

Even in these initial stages, with no proper market support and middlemen are handling the trade informally, lavender has given better benefits to farmers than traditional crops such as maize. A farmer earning around Rs 6,000 from maize cultivated on 0.125 acres of land is now earning around Rs 30,000 on the same piece of land through lavender. The farmers say that they can plant lavender on a large scale if a government-backed market strategy could be devised.

"Since the agro-climatic conditions of Kashmir are highly suitable for quality lavender production, the government's intervention in the setting up of cooperatives under contract farming for achieving the mission of the purple revolution will change the whole scenario. Kashmir is full of karewas lands (wastelands) where lavender can be grown in abundance," Bhat told 101Reporters

However, lavender cultivation remains unorganised, and whatever the private growers produce, they sell through personal networks. The government has not yet intervened in providing market linkages and in fixing prices for lavender oil. According to the Floriculture department's official records, around 80.23 acres of land are under aromatic plantation by the growers, and around 346 litres of aromatic oil, including lavender oil, were produced in 2020.

Representational image: Women grinding lavender flowers in Ladakh (Picture credit - Flickr/sandeepachetan.com)

Creating market connections

Two government departments, namely, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-IIIM in Srinagar and the Department of Agriculture, have their own lavender farms. The CSIR-IIIM looks after 900 acres of lavender farms across Jammu & Kashmir, including 600 acres in the Kashmir Valley. They own 60 acres of these farms in Kashmir, while the remaining 540 acres are owned by private growers, registered under the Aroma Mission launched in 2016. They intend to cover an area of 1500 hectares in the next two to three years. The Agriculture Department also has its own lavender farm of 49.42 acres and has managed the production of 150 kg of lavender oil in 2020.

“Around 200 kg of oil was procured from our own farms during the last three years and sold at around Rs. 12,500 per kg,” an agricultural officer said 

"Around 2500 kg of lavender oil is being exported to other states like Mumbai, Delhi, MP where essential oil industries utilize it," said Dr Shahid from CSIR-IIIM, the Senior Scientist, Coordinator, Aroma Mission, J&K/Ladakh. The mission also connects a few growers to the entrepreneurs as a small step towards developing market linkages, but small farmers are unable to meet the enormous demands of the industry. 

"We need to set up cooperatives for the lavender farmers here to increase the production and meet the industry demand. We have an edge in this sector as Kashmir has a monopoly in terms of the area under lavender cultivation," said Dr Shahid. 

Under CSIR-Aroma Mission, Parvaiz Qazi, a senior research scientist at IIIM, Srinagar, the agro-scientists focus on the small and poor farmers whose lands are barren with no irrigation option.

"Farmers cultivating lavender can increase their income five to sixfold, which is around more than Rs. 5 lakh for 2.47 acres," said Qazi to 101Reporters.

Entrepreneurship keeps hopes alive for sustained profits

Keeping this potential in view, Shahiq Nihal, 23, from Srinagar's Khanyar area, recently decided to become an entrepreneur rather than hunting for a government job. He converted his ancestral piece of land in Tangmarg — the village on the way to the Gulmarg tourist spot — into a sprawling lavender farm, which also saved the soil from erosion.

Before setting up the farm, Nihal received formal training on lavender farming from CSIR-IIIM. He planted around 4,000 saplings of lavender. "These saplings do not require much attention," he said. "It is completely organic farming, using only cow dung as fertilizer."

While Shahiq is satisfied with the market demand of lavender farming, the major problem he faces is the non-availability of distillation centres to extract the oil near his farm. He has not sold his produce of dried flowers yet, and no one has approached him till now. "We can extract oil only in the distillation units of CSIR-IIIM, which is far away from my farm. They should install distillation machines in every KVK (Krishi Vigyan Kendra) Centre," he suggested.

"We have taken up the matter with the government for providing distillation units of essential oil extraction under subsidy schemes. We demand that it should be in every district so that farmers will have facilities in their respective districts," said a Floriculture Officer, who wished to remain anonymous. He also maintained that growers often complain that the flowers lose aromatic quality during transportation to large distances for extraction.

These problems, however, have not deterred Kashmir's new-age entrepreneurs from dabbling in this experiment and taking calculated risks. Saquib Wani, a 31-year-old grower from Khrew Pampore, has been cultivating lavender since 2018 in his 6.91 acres of land. He now earns around Rs. 12 lakhs from lavender oil and flowers. He also sells to a middleman in Pulwama, who ties up with the consumers or companies outside.


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