Kochi: The Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (Cimap) is closely looking at various technological innovations to ensure that India retains its leadership in mint exports. Mint products such as mint oil and crystals accounted for more than 30% of the country’s total spice exports of $793 million (Rs3,648 crore then) in 2006-07 and the demand for these products is growing.
Extracted from the mentha arvensis plant, mint oil and crystals are used extensively by the food, flavour, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics industries; natural mint consumption by the cosmetics and flavour industry alone is estimated at around 20,000 tonnes annually, according to Cimap’s director S.P.S. Khanuja.
Until about 15 years ago, most mint oil for international use came from Brazil and China. Realizing the potential and the favourable cultivation conditions available across North India, several institutions led by Cimap made efforts to promote mint cultivation in the country.
Consequently, India became the largest exporter in the world. Production of mint has grown over the years.
In 1994, the total cultivated area was 45,000 hectares (ha) and production was 5,000 tonnes. In 2006, the total area under cultivation rose to 160,000 ha and the production to 16,000 tonnes.
According to experts, in the 1980s, mint cultivation was introduced as a main rabi season crop between November and February, following the harvest of rice or pigeon-pea—kharif crops grown during the start of the monsoon in May. The country has two planting seasons, rabi and kharif.
Though farmers made profits, mint cultivation was confined to relatively small patches of land in certain states, such as Uttar Pradesh, due to low yields.
However, availability of new varieties developed by Cimap and the Shivalik variety, imported from China, led to an expansion of acreage.
As a result of this, India pushed Brazil to the third spot in production.
Following Cimap’s release of new varieties resistant to rust, blight, mildew and leaf spot diseases, which destroy the plant, mainly the Chinese variety, India is now is the main supplier of mint oil and crystals to the world market, says Khanuja.
The new Cimap-bred mint varieties also acted as barriers for the spread of diseases and pests in the Indo-Gangetic region spread over Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and adjacent areas.
These varieties, with 30-50% higher yields, have a relatively short field life span of 90 days against 120 days for the normal varieties.
The late planting of mint and its early harvesting goes well with the cropping pattern of other crops such as potato, chickpea wheat and rice.
There have also been instances of farmers transplanting rice 20 days ahead of schedule after successfully completing the cultivation cycle of mint.
Khanuja says farmers of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar on an average are now making a profit of Rs60,000-75,000 per hectare by adopting a crop rotation, with mint coming in between the cultivation of rice or wheat or potato.
S. Kannan, director of the government trade promotion body Spices Board of India, says that the contribution of the institute in spreading the cultivation and raising productivity of mint has helped make mint the largest contributor to spice exports.
The board is to meet farmers and major mint-consuming firms early next month to devise ways for value-addition. Kannan admits that even now, mint is being exported as raw material, with value-addition being done abroad. The board is looking at devising schemes involving major firms to build the necessary infrastructure.