Lemongrass oil business was once a thriving business in the eastern part of the country.
However, as the yield dwindled and labor costs shot up, farmers in Bartsham, Trashigang involved in lemongrass oil extraction, decided to discontinue with the trade resulting in the disappearance of the decades-old practice.
Today many households in Bartsham gewog in Trashigang use the lemongrass oil extraction containers for storing water. Once a prized possession, containers have rusted.
Over the years, people’s interest in lemongrass oil production has started waning as production involves lot of hard work.
Aup Gyembo, a farmer from Muktangkhar village in Bartsham said that extracting the oil is not an easy task.
Farmers have to work tirelessly in the scorching heat, harvesting the grasses. It is then stuffed into a container and heated for a few hours after which the oil is extracted.
“We need firewood and it is very difficult to get workers for cutting the grasses,” said Aup Gyembo.
Fifty-year-old Dorjila from Bartsham gewog gave up lemongrass oil business about four years back.
He was into the business for about three decades before he gave up due to the rising labor costs and decrease in oil yield.
“When we started the business, the wage was Nu.5 per day. After I set up a machine of my own, I got paid Nu. 35 per liter,” he said. “Today, the labor wage has shot up to over Nu.1, 000 per day, while the yield has declined.”
Better income at construction sites is luring locals from leaving the business and declining yield is also discouraging people from being a part of the business.
Bartsham gup, Kelzang Dawa said that it is true that people involved in lemon grass oil extraction has decreased over the years. “But we are not sure about why the age-old practice is declining,” he said. “I don’t think it is due to the unavailability of market as the demand for lemongrass oil is high both within the country and outside.”
Gup said that since last year, there was no one involved in lemongrass oil extraction in Bartsham gewog.
He said that some reasons could be the declining of yield, high-wage rate and due to the hard work involved. “Other factors like lack of adequate firewood and water are also hampering the business.”
Kelzang Dawa said that though there are a lot of challenges involved, farmers don’t have to worry about the market, as the demand for lemongrass oil is very high.
Lemongrass oil is used to make various products such as sprays and soaps.
Gup said that reviving the practice would be a daunting challenge since many farmers are not interested in it.
However, 36-year-old Karma from Dramedtse gewog in Mongar has started lemongrass business again after a break of few years.
He said the increase in the price of lemon grass oil has helped him to revive oil extraction business again. “A kilogram of lemongrass oil now fetches Nu 1,300 which is higher by about Nu 300 from the earlier price.
“I took up the business again last year and it has been profitable,” he said. “The only good thing about lemongrass oil is we have a ready market and we do not have to worry about the market.”
Whatever the farmers produce is bought by Bio Bhutan, an enterprise, which specializes in producing natural and organic certified products from raw materials supplied by farmers.
Meanwhile, many farmers in the eastern dzongkhags have given up the business as it entails slogging while returns are not so attractive.
Lemon grass oil production in Bhutan started in the early 1980s and in 1989, two distillation units were established at Lungtenzampa in Trashigang and Pahadang in Mongar.
Jigme Wangchen from Bartsham, T/gang