A drive by the fields on the city’s outskirts is a refreshing experience - even in this blazing heat. You are greeted by dark green leaves and exhilarating aroma that remind you of mouthwash, toothpaste, chewing gum, cool hair oils and talcum powders!
And amidst all this are smiling farmers, who despite the scorching sun, continue to work on their crop with all devotion. Reason: Just a fortnight more and they know that they would ‘mint’ good profits out of their produce.
The plant is menthol mint (Mentha Arvensis leaves), ready to mature by the mid of May. The variety of mint is different from ‘pudina’ that is commonly used as a kitchen herb. It is cultivated in the mid of January and grows into profits for farmers by May.
The oil from these plants finds application in pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and other products
The crop covers an area of nearly 2 lakh hectares in India, 90% of which falls in Uttar Pradesh alone. Among the leading areas for the crop is Barabanki, where menthol mint covers nearly 60,000 hectares of land. Experts say Barabanki lies in the Terai region that is ideal for mint cultivation.
“The crop has seen a boom in the last one decade when the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP) introduced the ‘kosi’ variety that enables extra yield. The oil content in these leaves is richer than the other varieties of mint menthol,” said Ram Saran Verma, a leading farmer of Barabanki.
The oil from Mentha Arvensis leaves is widely used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, confectionary and many other products and thus those who indulge in its farming, have no problems marketing it.
In addition to the utility, demand and profits, what adds to the merit of the crop is the 90 days’ time period within which the crop gets ready.
This is what makes it ideal for plugging the gap between the rabi (wheat or potatoes) and kharif crop (rice), and farmers reap the ‘bonus’ from the cash crop that comes in addition to the traditional food crops.
“What’s more, the crop doesn’t require any fertilisers and has no adverse effect on the soil. Blue bulls and cattle, which are a constant threat to every other crop, do not affect mint at all. So all that the crop requires is adequate water for proper irrigation,” said Virendra Kumar, another leading farmer of the crop in Rae Bareli.
The fad for the crop has grown tremendously over the years, courtesy its benefits and regular motivation & training programmes organised by the CIMAP for promotion of its farming.
Extracting the oil is also easy. The distillation unit is affordable and many farmers have set up their own units. “If the small farmers don’t have their own unit, they take it on rent from the neighbouring farmer,” said Ram Singh, another leading farmer of the crop in Lucknow’s Mohanlalganj area.