Not long ago most people in the Jammu region used to collect lac- a resinous secretion is locally known as Beri da korh settled on ber plants in the Jammu region. It was found abundantly before 1947 and people used to collect and sell it commercially. Local Hakeems used to collect it for making desi medicines, while carpenters applied it for wood polish. Besides, local goldsmith used to make a mould out of it for making ornaments. With systematic interventions and scientific cultivation, it is being exported from India as a natural resin for lacquering, enamelling, sealing, polishes, insulations, medicines, gaskets, abrasives, adhesives etc. Lac dye isolated from the effluent water obtained during lac processing is used for colouring of cloth, animal fibers, soft-drinks, jam etc. of which the most commonly cultivated is Kerria lacca.[RVListenButton]
Since the Jammu region is bestowed with ample of lac host plants, therefore its cultivation can be revived for the benefit of the farming community of the region by scientific cultivation through systematic intervention. Most of the farmers living in the Kandi belt of Jammu and Kashmir hardly secure their livelihood from agriculture due to lack of fertile soil and irrigation. Fortunately, this region is bestowed with plants like Ber, Palas, and Ficus that could be exploited for the cultivation of lac insect, laccifer lacca.
It is pertinent to mention that this insect is known locally as korh on ber plants that were found abundantly in J&K before 1947, wherein people used to collect and sell it commercially. However, over the years, the natural occurrence of this insect was almost diminished in this region. Despite the availability of a good number of host plants systematic intervention for popularizing lac cultivation on farmer scale was never taken up.
Therefore, the potential for lac cultivation in Jammu was explored by scientists of SKUAST-Jammu. Twelve growers were encouraged to take up this venture for the past five years. The technology for cultivation of lac was imparted to them through extensive training programmes and large scale demonstrations. On the basis of the trials and demonstrations conducted under the project, it was found that Lac cultivation is a fairly remunerative activity to the grower and income from lac cultivation could be as high as 21.4 percent of farm income providing a net profit of around 800/tree, depending on the host species. The grower can utilize existing ber and palas plants in abundance that could be used to ensure livelihood to them. The mean yield of brood lac during the rainy season was 13 kg/tree (July –Oct) while for summer crop (Oct-July) it was about 7.5 kg/tree.
To cultivate lac, a farmer has to plan about the available host plants like Ber, Palas, Kikar, or Khair, prune them before subjecting them into the coupe system, This means that we have to divide the plants to be inoculated for two crop seasons. The first half for the summer crop that starts in the month of July and is harvested in October/November, while the Rainy crop is inoculated in November and harvested in July next year. This way the crop matures in eight months (summer crop) and four month (rainy crop), respectively. The coupe system is to sustain the brood (seed) supply throughout the year and to give rest to the plant and keep it free from lac for one season, alternatively. The next step is to procure a stick (broodlac) containing eggs that are ready to hatch and tie it to the chosen host tree to be infested. These sticks are selected from lac bearing trees prior to about two weeks of hatching of larvae. These lac bearing sticks are cut to the size of six inches. They are called ‘Brood lac’. Brood lacs are then kept for about two weeks in some cool place. When the crawler starts emerging from this brood lac, they are supposed to be ready for inoculation. Strings (sutli) are used for tying the brood lac sticks with the tender shoots of the host plant. There are various ways of tying the brood lac. After 21 days brood sticks need to be removed which is called phunki removal. From these phunki scraping of lac encrustations can also be done. Since, here, the lac is collected before swarming it is called ‘ARILAC’. In the case of Palas lac (Rangeeni lac), this type of lac was found to give better quality of production. So, only for this lac immature harvesting is encouraged. However, if cultivated on Ber we must harvest ‘Mature Lac’. The coated branches are later cut and harvested as sticklac.
To make products out of lac, the harvested sticklac is crushed and sieved to remove impurities. The sieved material is then washed several times to get rid of insect parts and other soluble material. The product that remains is called seedlac. The prefix seed refers to its pellet shape. Seedlac, which still contains a small percentage of impurities, is processed into shellac by heat treatment or solvent extraction. Potential uses of lac in Jammu and Kashmir are for fruits and vegetable coating for increasing shelf life and as a food colorant. Pertinent to mention that lac is a natural polymer that is edible while the paraffin wax used for coating fruits is harmful to health. Further, it is also known for the land of the artisans with unique handicraft skills in the both region of Jammu and Kashmir for value addition of wood, pottery, showpiece, bangle making, etc.
Dr. Gupta is a Professor of Entomology at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology, Jammu. He can be reached at [email protected]