Lemon Grass-A viable aromatic crop in monkeys effected areas
Dr. Banarsi Lal
Monkeys have left a substantial dent in the agricultural production of J&K. Their numbering is increasing day-by-day and endevours are being made by the different organisations to contain the assaults caused by the monkeys. Monkeys are wreaking havoc in certain pockets of J&K affecting the income of the farmers. Monkeys menace has compelled many farmers to keep their cultivable land fallow resulting in the net loss to the farmers. Lack of irrigation facilities and low yield of crops are other problems for the farmers of the area. More pronounced damage caused by these animals in lands adjacent to forest areas is due to food and water shortage in the forests. The major crops of the farmers from certain pockets in J&K are severely affected by the monkeys. Many endevours are made to eradicate this problem but it is increasing day-by-day. Not just village residents, city dwellers are also struggling to cope with monkey menace. Jammu region of J&K is also struggling to manage this menace and many times we observe monkeys attacks on the people. Turmeric, ginger, marigold, medicinal and aromatic plants cultivation etc. are suggested by the farmers by the agricultural scientists to minimize the effects of monkey menace. Painthal belt of Reasi District in J&K is heavily infested with the monkey menace. Many fields of the farmers are not cultivated due to monkeys menace. Lack of irrigation facilities, low yield of crops and lack of high milk yielding animals are other problems for the farmers of the area. This led many farmers to migrate in the urban areas to earn their livelihood. In 2016-17 KVK, Reasi with the close co-ordination of Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP)-Lucknow and Indian Institute of Integrative Medicines (IIIM)-Jammu introduced lemongrass farming in Reasi district of J&K. Now a distillation unit for the extraction of lemon grass oil has been established at Sirah village. Farmers of this area are processing their lemon grass in this unit. It is saving the transporting charges of the farmers as before the establishment of this unit farmers were transporting their lemon grass at IIIM-Jammu and processing their lemon grass crop in its distillation unit. It is worthwhile to mention here that lemongrass is not affected by the monkeys and other animals and farmers can fetch more money by growing it commercially. Many new farmers of the area are showing keen interest in its cultivation. Lemongrass has immense potential in Jammu region of J&K and can be grown by the farmers in their fallow land. In the beginning KVK, Reasi facilitated the farmers in extraction which was done by IIIM-Jammu .Technical guidelines of lemon grass farming are continuously provided by the KVK, Reasi. KVK is facilitating the lemon grass farmers with the co-ordination of distt. administration and Deptt. of Agriculture. Sh.Tilak Raj, a progressive farmer of Sirah village in Painthal block of Reasi district has grown more than lemongrass in more than 1 acre of land. He is a diversified farmer and generating extra income by growing lemongrass. Presently he is having around 9 lakhs of lemongrass slips at his field which can help him to generate more money. Meanwhile his lemon oil is of very good quality and has a good demand. According to him, lemon grass farming is supporting him to generate more income. By observing the success of lemongrass farming of Sh.Tilak Raj and some other farmers of the area, many new farmers are coming forward for lemongrass farming as the area is severely affected by the monkey menace. Sh.Tilak Raj himself also wants to increase his area under lemongrass farming. Lemongrass oil has tremendous scope in Reasi district as the tourists across the nation visit Katra throughout the year and there are numerous hotels and restaurants where it can be used as the room freshener. It can also be used as the antibacterial and in making lemon tea.
Lemon grass (Cymbopogan flexuosus) is a tall perennial plant with thin and long leaves. It is indigenous to India and other parts of Asia. It is aromatic tall sedge of family Poaceae which is grown in many parts of tropical and sub-tropical South East Asia and Africa. In India, it is mainly cultivated in Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states, in some parts of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand besides foot-hills of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Jammu region of J&K has the potential for its cultivation. If proper package practices and marketing channels are developed for the farmers then their income and employment can be enhanced by the lemon grass farming. Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), Reasi with the close co-ordination of CIMAP-Lucknow and IIIM-Jammu have introduced its cultivation in lower belts of Reasi district of J&K. These belts area severely affected by the monkeys menace and lemongrass has immense potential in the area. District Administration, Reasi and Deptt. of Agriculture, Reasi are facilitating the farmers in the area expansion and marketing of lemon grass oil. Value addition of lemon grass oil is also under process.Lemongrass is one of the commercially cultivated aromatic crops in India. India is the largest producer of lemon grass and about 80% of the produce is being exported. The essential oil is being traditionally exported to West Europe, U.S.A. and Japan. It has lot of medicinal properties and health benefits. It can be used in regular tea consumption for the best aromatic flavor. Most of the species of lemon grass are native to South Asia, South-east Asia and Australia. The so called East Indian lemon grass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) , also known as Malabar or Cochin grass is native to India , Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand ; for the related West Indian lemon grass (C. citratus ), a Malesian origin is generally assumed. Both the species are today cultivated throughout tropical Asia. Its culm is stout, erect, up to 1.8 meter high. Leaves are long, green, linear tapering upwards and along the margins; ligule very short; sheaths terete. It is a short day plant and produce profuse flowering. The inflorescence is a long spike about one metre in length. Flowers borne on decompound spatheate, panicles 30 to over 60 cm long. Presently it is grown in about 3,000 ha area in India, largely in states of Kerala, Karnataka, U.P., Uttrakhand and Assam. Now it is also grown commercially in Jammu region also with very good results. The oil is distilled from its leaves and flowering tops of lemon grass. The oil has strong lemon-like fragrance, due to high percentage of citral in the oil. The characteristic fragrance of oil makes its use in scenting of soaps, detergents, insect repellent preparations etc. The major use of oil is used as a source of citral, which goes in perfumery, cosmetics, beverages etc. The citral rich oil has germicidal, medicinal and flavouring properties. During early fifties India had monopoly both in production and world trade. Considering the bio-diversity in Cymbopogon spp. found in India; some allied spp. have shown to contain high value of nerolidal and farnesol in the oil. Obviously, varieties with these high value aroma compounds should be developed. The oil of lemon grass has high percentage of terpenes (limonene and myrecene), beside menthyl heptenone, linalool, geranyl acetate, nerol and geraniol. Further, citral can be converted into high value compounds like cintronellal, geraniol, geranyl acid and geranyl nitride but the processes are governed by patents. CKP 25, RRL 16, Jama Rosa, Praman, Sugandhi, Krishna etc. are the varieties of lemongrass. The crop is propagated through seed raised in nurseries, 2.5 kg/ha. It is also vegetatively propagated by splitting the clumps into slips. They are planted at a spacing of 40×40 cm. There are two planting seasons of lemongrass i.e. February-March and September-October. About 55,000 slips are required for one ha. A healthy plant gives about 100-200 g of seeds. These dry seed lots are stored in gunny bags lined with polythene. The seeds lose their viability if stored for a period more than one year. Lemongrass crop is free from most pests or disease but may require micronutrients over marginal lands. The field is kept weed free for the first 3 – 4 months after plating. Similarly, weeding-cum-hoeing is done up to 1 month, after every harvest. Generally, 2-3 weedings are necessary during a year. Under normal conditions, three harvests are possible during the first year and 3-4 in subsequent years, depending on the management practices followed. The yield of oil is less during the first year but it increases in the second year and reaches a maximum in the third year; after this, the yield declines. Under irrigated conditions from newly bred varieties an oil yield of 150-200 kg/ha is obtained. The oil is yellowish in colour having 75-85% citral and small amount of other minor aroma compounds. The recovery of oil from the grass ranges from 0.5 – 0.8 per cent. If grown commercially, lemongrass can be a boon to the farmers of Jammu region. It can change the life of the farmers of area.
(The writer is Sr. Scientist & Head, KVK, Reasi SKUAST-J).