Kashmir the beautiful valley of lush green meadows, gushing streams, fresh water lakes, and springs with bubbling mineral water, dense forests and cool climate has got a wide range of diverse flora full of fragrance, medicinal value and quality aroma. The valley of Kashmir provides variable and congenial climate, environment and altitude favorable for cultivation of aromatic and medicinal plants (MAPs) and contributes a lot in enhancing the aroma of aromatic produce. The aromatic and medicinal plant cultivation in Kashmir has its own history and was in practice for centuries. During Mughal times state used to get a revenue of around one lack rupees (a reasonable amount those days) per annum from the contract of Willow and Rose oil extracted from the plants of Salix Caprea (bed mushk ) and roses (Rosa Damascena) in the gardens on the banks of Dal lake. The aromatic plant Saussurea Lapa (kut) exported to other parts of India and China could fetch good money for the poor villagers and handsome revenue for the state in earlier times. Medicinal plants like Artemisia (tetwan) and Datura Stramonium (datur) were exported from the valley and were the good source of revenue for the state. The other plants of medicinal value are readily available in the valley. Let me mention few commonly available plants, Aconitum hetrophyllum (Patis), Macrotomia Benthami (Gao Zaban), Viola serpens (Banafsha), Malva rotundifolia (Sutsal), Cuscuta sp. (Kakilipot), Peganum Harmala (Isband).
The (Crocus Sativus) saffron a condiment and pigment plant of medicinal value, religious importance is cultivated in a particular area of the Kashmir valley due to favorable soil and climatic conditions had a glorious past. There is lot of historic evidence which supports the fact that Aromatic and medicinal plant industry was an established trade for the inhabitants of Kashmir. Kashmiri plants have a unique aroma and medicinal effect and had a good hold on the export market but after independence the whole concept of Aromatic and Medicinal plant cultivation and collection got ruined due to lack of patronage from the state, introduction of synthetic materials and closure of traditional market routes.
Earlier the aromatic and medicinal plant cultivation was not in real sense cultivation but people and the state through its contractors used to collect wild flora of aromatic and medicinal nature from forests and wild cultivations. Instead of proper and scientific cultivation the state always exploited this sector to extract more revenue by all means of pressure tactics and intimidation of its subjects through its contractors. Some improvement was done by starting drug farms on scientific lines in the later years of the autocratic period with the influence and intervention of Europeans, These drug farms owned by the government were a major step towards the development of aromatic and medicinal plant industry in the valley, but the same were wound up by the popular governments after independence, for the reasons best known to them. The famous drug and match factory at Baramulla in the northern district of Kashmir which used local Aromatic and medicinal plants as raw material was part of this environmental friendly industry..
The ecology, climate and altitude of Kashmir are major deterrents and impediments for industrialization in the valley, but can help in boosting eco friendly industry of food processing, medicinal and aromatics plant cultivation and processing. Food processing (particularly of Horticulture produce) aromatics and herbal medicine/ cosmetic industry will get its raw material in the valley and the final product is easy to transport to its destination. The medicinal and aromatic sector needs very less energy (the scarce commodity in Kashmir) from cultivation to its final processing and being eco friendly it helps in maintaining the ecological balance.
Regional Research Laboratory (RRL) and Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic plants (CIMAP) a prestigious organization is playing vital role in reviving and establishing the medicinal and aromatic plant cultivation and processing on scientific lines in the valley. Their research farm with thrust on cultivation techniques and extraction facility at Bonear Pulwama is playing a great role in this field. CIMAP and RRL (Regional Research Laboratory) people are contributing a lot on research and technology front and are the pioneers in revival of medicinal and aromatic sector in the valley but they lack the infrastructure to disseminate their concept, technology and the result of their research work. They don’t have an extension agency of that magnitude which can motivate people and provide on farm technical guidance. It is here the department of Agriculture Kashmir with its vast infrastructure of qualified man power, contact outlets has created a specialized wing under its Floriculture/ medicinal and aromatic development scheme. The department is running a farm for different medicinal and aromatic plant cultivation at Ahgam Pulwama which is research oriented but developmental in nature. The extraction facility (Distillation) at Ahgam is low-cost, scientific but simple and indigenous. The thrust area of the department is to propagate and multiply the different kinds of medicinal and aromatic plants in its nurseries and provide them to the prospective farmers/entrepreneurs. This year department has sold around twenty thousand plants of rose (Rosa Damascena) to farmers and business houses to promote the rose oil industry. A considerable number of lavender and other scented plant material has been distributed and sold to the farmers. The demand is encouraging and the department is having enough resources and potential to cater to the increasing needs of the farmers and entrepreneurs. Agriculture Department has started several ambitious schemes and programs to motivate and encourage farmers and entrepreneurs for cultivation of medicinal and aromatic crops and processing of its produce. The extension wing of this scheme has started a vigorous campaign to revive and familiarize this enterprise among the farmers and educated unemployed youth about the MAP sector and is providing technical guidance on their door step. At the moment the results are quite encouraging and several big business houses and small and marginal farmers are taking keen interest in this industry.
The main attraction of Medicinal and Aromatic plant industry is its cash crop nature, low volume final product, its attractive profit and cost benefit ratio as compared to other crops and above all the monopoly factor.
To revive(I use the word revive because this industry was quite established earlier in the valley) and give boost to the medicinal and aromatic plant cultivation sector and encourage people to adopt this high value crop cultivation we need to develop a multi pronged strategy were people from research and extension agencies can work in tandem and provide on farm technical guidance to farmers, resolve their problems on scientific lines and remove their doubts and apprehensions about the viability of this high value crop cultivation scheme of MAPs. At this point of time we should stop talking of millions and billions of dollars of turnover but should sell the concept of employment, land use, ecology and work on confidence building measures so that the farmers and entrepreneurs can repose trust in the developing/reviving agencies. Once the concept of medicinal and aromatic industry (which we believe as scientists and technocrats is the most viable, profitable and of high value) gets shaped and takes off there will be no turn around and then the dream of million dollars will materialize.