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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Pioneer at the grassroots

Farmer experiments on barren land with lemongrass,a crop never grown in Punjab before.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Punjab | Published: March 8, 2013 3:39:04 am

Farmer experiments on barren land with lemongrass,a crop never grown in Punjab before. It clicks so well that state govt takes up his example for replication elsewhere

Raghunath Singh,66,had stuck to traditional farming for decades. When he eventually did experiment,he ended up setting an example not only for fellow farmers but also for the Punjab government. He has earned huge profits from barren land in Kandi,a very backward region that lacks irrigation facilities and where large tracts are not fit for cultivating any crop.

Except lemongrass. This is what Singh grew,a grass whose oil is of use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics,but a crop that had never been tried by any farmer in the state until Singh pioneered it. And until a visit by the chief minister a couple of months ago,all that lemongrass could boast in the state was Raghunath Singh’s 15 acres at Seeprian village in Hajipur block,one of the most agiculturally disadvantaged blocks of Hoshiarpur.

The chief minister was so impressed that he has now told government departments to increase the area under lemongrass to 1,000 acres in the Kandi belt. Officials have started roping in farmers,200 of the 1,000 acres have been accounted for,and the government is looking at another 50 acres for lemongrass beyond beyond Hoshiarpur,in Pathankot.

Singh,a matriculate,had spent his first 60 years without venturing beyond the traditional wheat and paddy. His first experiment,as it turned out,was with a crop he had not even heard of till then.

“I was just another farmer cultivating wheat and paddy,with part of the land for sugarcane,etc. But I wanted to utilise the rest of my land,where huge parts lay barren,” says Singh. He owns 50 acres; the 15 acres where he now grows lemongrass were then barren because of insufficiency of water and poor soil.

“The Unnati cooperative society runs an amla unit successfully in Talwara. I used to go there often,hoping to get some guidance on how I could use my vacant land,” he says. “The president of the society Jyoti Saroop,an MSc in biotechnology who has done research in the US,encouraged me a few years ago to go for lemongrass.”

The society president introduced him to officials of Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (GADVASU),Punjab Agriculture University and Punjab State Council for Science and Technology. They guided him on growing lemongrass.

“It was a name I had never heard of before. I started this very reluctantly,” he admits. “But now I am delighted with my farm of 15 acres. I have set up my own plant for the extraction of oil from grass. Even the Punjab State Council for S&T has set up a plant.”

All one needs,he says,is workers to grow and collect the grass — besides barren land. “This is the perfect crop for low-fertility land,” he says. “I extract about 80-100 kg of oil annually per acre,which I sell at around Rs 550 a kg. Thus,on an average,a farmer in Kandi can earn about Rs 40,000 per acre after taking care of all his expenses. I am earning well from land that never gave me a single paisa earlier.”

He had started cultivation on a tentative note,on two kanals (a fourth of an acre). He has never looked back since,says Dr A L Saini,head of GADVASU’s department of livestock production and management,and an expert on the subject. He describes Singh as an inspiration for many in Kandi.

The other farmers who have been roped in by GADVASU following the chief minister’s directions will grow lemongrass on 200 acres from the next monsoon. The government has started a project in Dhar block of Pathankot district,under which 50 acres will be brought under lemongrass,says Dr Jatinder Kaur Arora,chief additional director,biotechnology,in the state S&T council.

“We have introduced scientific cultivation for lemongrass. It needs neither fertilisers nor pesticides,and no animal or bird eats it. It needs very little water and we can harvest it four times a year,” says Dr Saini.

GADVASU has started exploring the therapeutic and preservative values of lemongrass oil. “Lemongrass oil has a strong,lemon-like odour that is used in perfumery,for various grades of soaps,detergents,cosmetics,and insect repellents,in room fresheners and ayurvedic preparations,and as a flavouring agent for soft drinks,” says Dr Saini,stressing its “great ability” to repel mosquitoes.

“We have also started contacting families who can make ropes from lemongrass waste,” he adds. “A farmer can make Rs 3 to 5 kg of rope per day and can earn around Rs 5,000 per month.” After the oil has been extracted,it leaves 120-160 quintals of biomass per acre,which is enough to build 30-50 quintals of ropes,” says Dr Arora of the S&T council.

“This crop is a boon for land of low fertility,” she says.

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