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Scent of lemongrass replaces opium stink

In the Maoist hotbed of Khunti, hundreds of people have taken up the cultivation of lemongrass, finds Mukesh Ranjan.

Published: 14th November 2021 09:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th November 2021 09:36 AM   |  A+A-

Scenes of local women being trained to undertake lemongrass cultivation in Khunti.

Scenes of local women being trained to undertake lemongrass cultivation in Khunti.

JHARKHAND:  Dipti Tiru, pursuing her graduation from Birsa College in Khunti, had the biggest surprise of her life. Her five-acre barren land, which had remained idle for decades, fetched Rs 30,000 this year after she planted lemongrass on it. 

Her exuberance is largely due to the Khunti district administration that is promoting lemongrass cultivation to check the rampant growth of opium plantation in the region. For this purpose, the district administration has tied up with a local NGO and the Jharkhand State Livelihood Society (JSLPS). As a result, many opium growers have shifted to the new plant in Khunti, the worst affected area by Left wing extremism in Jharkhand.

Dipti, who belongs to Darla Jamtoli village under Murhu Block of Khunti, attributes the switch to the support from the state government. “I did not have to work very hard as I sold the lemongrass saplings,” said Dipti, adding that over 15 litres of lemongrass oil is ready for sale from which she would get an additional Rs 18,000.

Dipti says the state government under the JOHAR Project provided Rs 4,000 to the grower, which one can return as per one’s convenience. “The best part is that lemongrass cultivation gives as much returns as poppy,” she said. Asmani Tuti of Burju village in Khunti points at another positive: lemongrass can grow on a less fertile soil or even barren land where one can harvest it at least four times a year for the next five years without investing more money.

Police sources say the proscribed People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI) is involved in the illegal poppy cultivation in Khunti, which is the second largest producer of poppy in Jharkhand after Chatra, another district affected by Left extremism. The government targets 800 acres for lemongrass cultivation in the Maoist and Patthalgadi areas.

Last year, lemongrass was grown in over 1,100 acres of Khunti itself, which started giving good returns. At this rate, officials predict that opium cultivation will get completely wiped out in the next few years. Khunti Deputy Commissioner Shashi Ranjan said the removal of opium cultivation was necessary because it is a source of funding for the extremists. “The lemongrass cultivation can also be promoted in areas where wild tuskers destroy paddy fields as it does not get harmed by them,” said Ranjan. 

Lemongrass yields a profit of almost Rs 90,000 per annum per acre land as the market demand is high, he said. “We are also trying to make secondary products such as phenyl and room fresheners from lemongrass, which will be made available in the market soon. These products will be attached to Palash Mart to ensure a regular market,” said Ranjan. 

Last year, lemongrass was grown in over 1,100 acres. This year’s target is 800 acres. “The Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) and Seva Welfare Society (SWS) will help us achieve the target,” he added. The Seva Welfare Society has been working in Maoists strongholds and have successfully persuaded the villagers to shift to lemongrass cultivation.

Khunti Superintendent of Police Ashutosh Shekhar says the police have been successful in convincing the people to shift to new cultivation. “We are hopeful that we will expand it to more areas,” he said.  CEO JSLPS Nancy Sahay said nearly 1,000 women in remote areas of Khunti have taken up lemongrass cultivation through JSLPS, as “it has proved to be a profitable venture,” noted Sahay.



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