It is a one-room industry flourishing in the Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh. The cultivation of menthol is now increasingly replacing opium in the Barabanki district of Terai region in Uttar Pradesh, which was hitherto known for production of narcotics. For the farmers in Barabanki region, the production of menthol oil has become a cottage industry.
Cultivation of opium was done in 4,000 hectares of farmland till 1997, which has reduced to 2,000 hectares this year. This is because opium is no longer the first choice of farmers and licencing has created problems for the farmers, says DP Singh, deputy director, Agriculture.
Quick profits, good yield and above all no interference by the government has made menthol the preferred crop in Barabanki. More than 80 per cent of the Barabanki farmers cultivate menthol cultivation. Barely 5 per cent cultivate opium, according to the district prohibitory officer.
The shift towards Menthol began in 1982, when a a few farmers in Chandanpurwa village in Masauli block of Barabanki district visited Mordabad to learn about the Menthol crop. Some traders apprised farmers about the cultivation of menthol. Interestingly, unlike other crops, the state agriculture department does not give any subsidy in the form of seed, fertilisers or pesticides for Menthol. Covered by Indira and Sharda canal at least three blocks of the district have adequate facility of irrigation, which is a must for the crop of menthol.
Traders from Moradabad, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai are now directly approaching the farmers for Menthol, ignoring the middlemen.
The rates of the stock vary every day. For the local editions of all the newspapers, quoting rates of Menthol is a must and some big farmers even have sites for the rates on the internet. Menthol oil currently sells at Rs 570 per kg in Barabanki. During winters, it goes up to Rs 1,000 per kg. According to Prince Kapoor, a prominent wholesale dealer of mint in Masauli, business of around Rs 120 crore is done every year from this district.
“Times have changed. With red-tapism prevailing in the sugar cane industry and problems in getting a licence for opium, farmers are switching to the menthol,“ says Harinam Singh Chauhan, former village Pradhan and menthol farmers of Banki block.
For an opium licence, an estimate of the produce has to be submitted to the state government. If the actual production is less, the farmer is penalised.
“More than Rs 10,000 can be earned in 3 months, what else one can expect from one bigha (26,000 sq feet) of land” asks Prahlad of village Gulariha of Jaidpur. “There is an absolute profit of Rs 5,000 per bigha ( 26,000 sq feet) per crop even when the rates are at its lowest,” says Sirish Dixit of village Pure Santoshi of Bani block in Barabanki.