From geranium oil that costs Rs 35,000 per litre and vetiver oil costing around Rs 24,000 per litre farmers and entrepreneurs in the plantation and distillation of these aromatic plants in the state are enjoying a better livelihood.
Valued for their supposed health benefits and cosmetic uses, these oils, along with those of patchouli, citronella, lemongrass and palmarosa, are the focus of the creator of Fountain Green Joint Liability Group and founder of essential oil production unit Suhsieng, Besterly Marweiñ, who told Highland Post that since 2017 he has supplied around 2,000 litres of oil to companies outside Meghalaya extracted from aromatic herbs and plants he cultivates on his 20 acre farm in Byrwa, Ri-Bhoi.
“We were able to extract about 500 litres of aromatic oil a year and to date it has been about 2,000 litres of medicinal and aromatic oils that we have supplied to various companies outside the state. From every distillation unit of oil, we earn about Rs 500-600 up to Rs 800 per day and if we do the distillation twice a day we get an income of about Rs 1,600 per day. Then we pack it and transport it to Guwahati and from there it’s supplied to different states,” he said.
Before he got into this line of work, Marweiñ’s main source of livelihood was the mining of coal and limestone. He said, “The National Green Tribunal ban in 2014 led to the prohibition of the extraction of mineral resources like coal and limestone and I suffered a huge financial crunch. It was then that I, fortunately, met friends and experts from the Meghalaya Institute for Natural Resources (MINR) who introduced me to the concept of aroma greens plantation and led me into the business.”
Beginning in 2015, he first planted citronella and lemongrass saplings on 5 acres.
“I invested in a small distillation unit of 500 kilogramme capacity that would extract about 2.5 to 3 litres of essential oils per day. I then expanded from 5 acres to 10 acres and formed clusters with 12 neighbouring families to whom I supplied free saplings for cultivation over an area of 12 acres,” Marwein said.
In 2016 he was provided with a bigger distillation unit by the MINR and other agencies, which also supported him with advanced training programmes and free saplings of other plants. Since then there has also been a boost to the industry following the launch of the Aroma Mission by the Meghalaya government in 2019.
Besides giving him an alternative means of livelihood, Marwein also says that these plants can restore an environment that has been devastated by mining.
In areas like Rymbai, where most of the soil has been ruined by coal mining and vegetables can no longer grow, these aromatic plants have now fixed the soil and made it fertile and people are now successfully growing vegetables in the barren lands.
Stating that the vetiver plant also helps prevent soil erosion, floods and purifies water bodies, Marwein said, “Plants like patchouli, citronella, lemongrass and palmarosa also deter mosquitoes, snakes, leeches and even farm animals do not eat them. Once planted they need very little maintenance for another six to seven years while geraniums need to be shifted to greenhouses only during the winters.”