Kerala

Aroma of lemongrass oil fills Anchunadu forests

Verdant fields of lemongrass cover the forest areas of Anchunadu where the traditional distilleries fill the air with the refreshing aroma of lemongrass oil.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon Citratus) oil extraction is a major livelihood in the forest settlement areas of Marayur and Kanthallur with a large number of tribespeople cultivating lemongrass and

extracting the oil following traditional methods. The quality of the

lemongrass oil extracted in Anchunadu is considered high as it

contains high levels of citral, with the average ranging from 70

to 85%. During the winter season, it goes up to 90%. In addition to citral, the oil has ingredients like nero geraniol, citronellal, terpinolene, geranyl acetate, myrecene and terpinole methylheptenone.

Many uses

Lemongrass oil is used in aromatherapy to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. It is a main ingredient in soaps, deodorants and cosmetics. Its use as a bio-pesticide has not yet been fully tapped.

There are nearly 20 settlements in the Marayur Sandalwood Division and Chinnar where lemongrass extraction is the main livelihood activity. A major problem faced by the tribespeople is lack of value-added products and facilities to market the produce. The farmers sold the oil directly to the middlemen, said Thankarajeswar of Nellipettykudy in Marayur.

He said that they got a price ranging from ₹1,500 to ₹1,750 per kg of lemongrass oil.

Traditional method

Lemongrass collected from the field is put inside an urn and around 100 kg of firewood is required to distil a full urn which will yield 600 grams to 1 kg of oil. The oil extraction required monitoring for 2 hours to ensure appropriate temperature and continuous flow of water to control the evaporation level.

An earlier survey by the Forest Department found that nearly 60%

of the tribespeople in Marayur and Chinnar engaged in lemongrass extraction. According to a forest official at Marayur, the lemongrass cultivation reduced the tribespeople’s over dependence on forest. The grass is cultivated on barren forest areas where no other cultivation is possible. The rocky and barren hills have turned green now. The lemongrass cultivation has prevented soil erosion on hilly slopes. A major attraction is that no additional investment or care is needed after the grass is cultivated once. The women folks cut the lemongrass and collect the logs and the men run the distilleries. The extraction units are situated in the middle of the fields, away from the settlements.

“There is a connection between their lifestyle and oil extraction. If

mechanisation is done, there is a chance of the tribespeople leaving the sector as they enjoyed the heat from the hearth inside the

distilleries, especially during the winter and rainy seasons,” said

Saby Varghese, Assistant Conservator of Forest and former Divisional Forest Officer, Marayur.

Man-animal conflict

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has

identified lemongrass cultivation as a main income generating activity of tribespeople and under the livelihood and conservation project a high yielding variety of lemongrass, Krishna, was supplied to the tribespeople. It is successfully cultivated in Uttar Pradesh and Assam. The aim is to reduce over dependence on forest while enhancing their income. Lemongrass cultivation will also help in reducing man-animal conflict. Villages neighbouring the buffer zone of the forest would also be brought under the UNDP project with the aim of reducing man-animal conflict, said a UNDP official.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 1:09:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/aroma-of-lemongrass-oil-fills-anchunadu-forests/article33185537.ece

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