Farmers earning as much as Rs 3 lakh per acre by cultivating herbs

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NEW DELHI: Here’s a little-known story of Indian farming — a happy one. Led by strong and rapidly growing industry demand, a small group of farmers are earning as much as Rs 3 lakh per acre, a figure that’s put in true perspective when you consider wheat and rice farming doesn’t pay more than Rs30,000 per acre.

Herbs and aromatic plants used for ayurvedic medicines and personal care products – sold by companies like as Dabur, Himalaya, Natural Remedies, Patanjali – are the main ingredients of this farm earnings boom.

Many of the herbs have exotic names and pretty much all the numbers are remarkable. Ateesh, kuth, kutki, karanja, kapikachhu, shankhapushpi… these herbs and aromatic plants mean little to the urban consumer but represent life-changing income opportunities for some farmers.

Industry estimates put the market for herbal products at Rs 50,000 crore, growing at a fast annual clip of 15%. Acreage devoted to herbs and aromatic plants is still very small — 6.34 lakh hectares out of the total currently cropped area of 1,058.1 lakh hectares — but growing at 10% annually, according to government data.

Even more remarkable are farmers’ returns. A farmer growing ateesh herb, largely used in ayurvedic medicine, in the higher reaches of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh may easily get Rs2.5-3 lakh per acre. A lavender farmer may get Rs1.2-1.5 lakh returns per acre.

These returns are why Bharat Bhushan of Khellani village in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir switched from maize to lavender for his 2 acre plot. By this November, he will be adding another 10 acres.

“I planted the crop for the first time in 2000 and the returns are four times what I used to get for maize,” he says.

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Lavender flowers are harvested and processed to obtain oil, dry flowers and other value added products.

Vidya Karan, another 2-acre farmer, in Sangla village in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district, has a multi-herb portfolio: ateesh, Rs 2.5-3 lakh per acre, rattan jot, Rs 1.15 lakh per acre, and karu, Rs 1.5-2 lakh per acre.

He points to another big advantage these crops give to growers. “We don’t have to water the herbs too much or spray fertilisers on it,” he says. This has allowed farming in areas where even one crop a year was tough on account of poor rainfall. Dabur works with farmers to grow medicinal plants like shankhapushpi in Barmer, Rajasthan.

Companies who buy these herbs and aromatic plants are equally bullish. “Some high-value herbs like ateesh, kuth, kutki are currently more profitable because of supply shortage,” says Amit Agarwal, director, Natural Remedies.

He says on an average a farmer can earn Rs 60,000 per acre by growing herbs, provided there’d assured demand. Natural Remedies says it is doing contract farming of herbs on 1,043 acre of land.

Patanjali’s CEO Acharya Balkrishna says the company is “helping farmers cultivate herbs on 40,000 acre”. Kutki, shatavari, and chirayata are on top of his list of best earners. And India has plenty of potential to grow this business, he says, because it is way behind China in production and there’s high global and domestic demand.

Big players are getting more involved. In 2017-18, Dabur, under its Bio-Resources Development programme, saw an increase of 25% in area under cultivation of medicinal herbs —more than 5,000 acres across 19 states, involving 2,400 farmer families, according to Dabur India CSR head A Sudhakar. Himalaya Drug Company works with over 800 farmers, covering over 3,500 acres, says a company spokesperson.

The Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine in Jammu has been promoting lavender and aromatic plants like rosemary, geranium and clary sage. “Demand for oils from these plants is coming from domestic companies dealing in perfumery and cosmetics,” says Ram Vishwakarma, director, IIIM.





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