BANKI AROMATIC CLUSTER
The Banki Aromatic cluster is one of the potential clusters considered to be developed under the cluster mode of the SFURTI scheme. This cluster is situated in the Banki block of Cuttack district in Odisha. The cluster is traditionally an agrarian economy. Majority of the population are farmers. The cluster covers 1756 farmers from 24 villages. The farmer beneficiaries of the proposed cluster belong to the below poverty line category.
Before the project intervention, the farmer beneficiaries only cultivated the traditional crops like wheat and paddy. Such cultivation did not bring much income to the beneficiaries and hence, the farmers kept pushing below the poverty line. Unable to meet their basic requirements, they switched to alternative modes of income like handicrafts, wage labor and transportation activities.
Since Banki is a hilly and forest area, the farmers faced devastation of cultivable lands due to intrusion of wild pigs. Vast amount of their harvest was destroyed and a little could reach the market for sale. Since paddy and wheat are subsistence crops and there is an oligopolistic market for these products, the revenue generated was low and after deduction of additional expenditures, only a little amount of money reached the farmers to carry out their livelihood. This added to the plight of the farmers.
However, the intervention of the SFURTI scheme has proved to be a game changer for the cluster. The implementing agency (IA) – “FORTUNE” has played a remarkable role in uplifting the living standards of the farmer beneficiaries. The major challenge in front of the IA at the initial stage was to mobilize the farmers for plantation of contemporary crops like lemongrass, palmarosa, jamaroja, citronella and mentha. The IA has made commendable efforts to motivate the farmers by conveying the benefits of the scheme and the advantages that will accrue to them over time by cultivating the above mentioned crops. The farmers were convinced that since the crops are purely cash crops, the amount of revenue generated from the sale of the products would be remarkable. This would promote their livelihood and reduce their financial burden.
Switching over to the cultivation of lemon grass was the first step that the cluster took to revamp its economic and social conditions. Today they are engaged in growing lemon grass in a total area of 250 acres. Due to the strong fragrance of the lemongrass, wild pigs stay away from the fields and hence the total produce can reach the Common Facility Centre, per se, for processing, without any loss. The cost of lemongrass cultivation is also low as compared to the traditional crops. The farmer beneficiaries do not have to replenish the land for next cultivation rather the crops will start growing again from the stalks after cutting of grass every time.
The IA has been conducting training programmes time to time on the various techniques of lemon grass cultivation. It has identified different tie-ups with marketing agencies for sale of the products of the cluster. It has given every possible handholding support to the cluster from grass root level. The beneficiaries are also getting trained in different aspects under the soft intervention programmes of the scheme. Today the beneficiaries are more skilled and equipped with modern methods of cultivation. They are engaged in different activities within the CFC. Apart from cultivation, some beneficiaries are employed in producing lemongrass oil while some are engaged in making agarbatti and soap. The scheme has enabled the productivity skills of the cluster. There are ten distillation units installed in the CFC where the beneficiaries are operating the machineries in two shifts and making the final products for sale. The cluster generates total revenue of INR 4-5 lakhs per month. The beneficiaries are satisfied enough to be covered under the scheme. They are also very grateful to the IA due to the kind of support they have been getting from it. The cluster has planned to expand in future by making value added products from lemongrass, citronella, palmarosa etc. and the expected revenue per month would increase to at least 10times of the current figure!!