Senna cultivation turns into a lucrative enterprise

J. Praveen Paul
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The leaves and pods of the plant are used bythe pharmaceutical industry in laxatives

Luxuriant growth of senna crop in Vilathikulam block in Tuticorin district.— Photo: N. Rajesh
Luxuriant growth of senna crop in Vilathikulam block in Tuticorin district.— Photo: N. Rajesh

The soaring demand for Senna (Cassia angustifolia), also called as Tinneveli Senna, a medicinal plant predominantly grown in various parts of Tuticorin, has triggered a phenomenal jump in its exports. Senna leaves and pods are used by the pharmaceutical industry in laxatives, according to P.S.S. Raja Sankaralingam, chairman, Shellac and Forest Products Export Promotion Council.

Mr.Sankaralingam told The Hindu here on Monday that in view of the growing demand from international buyers for senna, a representation had been made to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to set up an Export Facilitation Centre for senna under the ASIDE (Assistance to States for Development of Export Infrastructure and Allied Activities) Scheme. Tuticorin had a traditional export market for senna like salt and palm fibre.

He said senna had been an export commodity even before the Tuticorin port was established.

Senna was popular in the western countries for making ‘herbal tea’. Nearly 85 per cent of senna produced in India was sent overseas. “The plant contains calcium sennoside, a chemical compound that is used as a laxative,” he said. Mostly, senna was being shipped to Japan, China, the USA, Germany, Spain, Thailand, Indonesia, Latvia, South American countries and Mexico.

An export volume of 15,975 metric tonnes, valued at Rs.61 crore, was achieved in 2012-13. During last fiscal, exports was 13,576 metric tonnes worth Rs.51 crore, and in 2010-11, 14,435 mt of senna was exported. In 2009-10, shipments to the tune of 12,653 mt were made.

With the objective of promoting exports, five per cent incentive was being provided to exporters under Vishesh Krishi Gram Udyog Yojana (VKGUY) and one per cent duty drawback was also given.

Many senna farmers in the district were buying seeds from exporters, who were involved in grading senna leaves and pods.

Calling senna as a ‘lucrative crop’ for farmers, he said the farmers were largely relying on senna cultivation since the short duration crop could be grown both as a rainfed and an irrigated crop.

In Tamil Nadu, it was grown in the rainfed tracts of Tuticorin, Tirunelveli, Virudhunagar, Ramanathapuram and Madurai districts. The sown crop could be harvested within a period of three to four months.

N. Rajakumar, Deputy Director of Horticulture, Tuticorin, said senna cultivation would be increased to 450 ha in Vilathikulam, Ottapidaram, Pudur, Kovilpatti and Karungulam blocks this year. The farmers would sow this crop on black and red soil at the fag end of the Northwest monsoon.

On sowing 10 kilograms of seeds, they would get an yield of 250 to 300 kg of senna leaves and 60 to 70 kg of pods.

“It yields up to 1,500 kg of leaves and 400 kg of pods in a hectare under irrigated condition, but in rainfed condition, its yield drops to 500 kg of leaves and 200 kg of pods,” he said.

To motivate senna farmers, he said back-ended subsidy of Rs.2,000 for an acre was being provided under the National Mission on Medicinal Plants. Efforts were on to form farmers’ interest groups in the district to increase the crop cover in potential villages. Palani Velayutham, Assistant Director of Horticulture, said during last year 316 senna farmers had been benefited by the subsidy scheme, through which Rs.16.80 lakh was extended.




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