Cultivating lac resin: Documentary film by CEC member Samik Gupta

The West Bengal filmmaker focused his 25th film on the income-generating cultivation of lac resin (shellac) in Purulia district. "India should go for a green economy," he says.

CEC member and film director Samik Gupta with a wild caught Russell's viper during shooting of "The Sleepless Sentinel".

There was a tradition of Lac culture in Manbhum areas, which includes the present Purulia district. Dire poverty and lack of governmental initiatives gradually eradicated this high -ielding production from its natural habitat. Finally, the cultivation has been reintroduced in Purulia after a long period. It estimates that at least 20,000 families living below the poverty line will benefit from this endeavour.

By Samik Gupta

Purulia is a prime district of West Bengal endowed with vast natural resources and considerable floral diversity. The coexistence of ancient Indian tribes with Mother Nature makes Purulia a notable biosphere, yet to be recognized. Paradoxically, the district has been neglected and deprived for several decades, causing the inhabitants delineate from the mainstream civilization. Lack of attention to the natural occurrence of potential diverse resource base and its open market coupled with traditional knowledge of the local inhabitants has put the district in a precarious situation.

The newly formed State government has taken strong initiatives to incorporate the under developed, socio- economically dry district to the sphere of rapid development. The State Forest Department has undertaken a unique endeavor to disseminate the Lac cultivation throughout the district as it offers plenty of Lac hosting tree species in free range. The project has been launched by the State Forest Department with the financial assistance of “Paschimanchal Unnayan Parshad”, West Bengal.

Lac is the raw material for several industries like gala seal, polishing, dye and even skin cosmetic and contemporary jewellery to some extent. Commercial Lac is produced through different series of procedures, which is a non-toxic biotic product and free from any side effects. Lac is a resinous exudation from the body of female scale insect. Tree species like Palash (Butea monosperma), Kusum (Scleichera oleosa) and Kul (Ziziphus mauritiana) are considered the suitable host plants for Lac insects in India. Purulia is an ideal natural habitat of the host tree species for its soil, weather and climatic factors. Such abundance of Kusum and Palash is hardly seen in any other district of West Bengal. The district may claim its richest extremity through proper utilization of resources.

The State Forest Department with the financial assistance of “Paschimanchal Unnayan Parshad” has initiated Lac cultivation in 11 blocks and 33 moujhas of the Purulia district. Considering all the aspects the south- west circle of State Forest department has primarily assigned three Divisions to spread the project for the welfare of the financial backward people. By a rough estimation, there is a sporadic occurrence of around 21 lakh Palash, 60 thousand Kusum and 20 thousand Ber trees in different free range and private lands in this particular bio- geographic area of the state. The collective seedlac holding capacity of these plants is about 25 thousand quintal per annum and having a production capacity of 5 to 8 times of shellac quantity. According to some aspiring farmers, the help of applied science can trigger the Lac productivity up to 10 times.

The first phase of the project started on 9 to 16th July of 2011 with the active initiation of the West Bengal State Forest Department. The beneficiaries selected amongst the local farmers and given 5 Kilograms of shellac each. In addition to that, the government also provided necessary technical assistance, advices and pesticides as required time to time. Lac insect (Kerria lac or Laccifer lacca) has two distinct strains. The strain inoculated here is ‘Kusumi’, which mainly grows –up in Kusum tree.

In the second phase the seedlac distribution and inoculation was conducted on 24th Oct to 4th Nov. The strain inoculated this time known as Rangeeni, which grows on host plants other than Kusum. ‘Palash’ has been selected for inoculation in this phase. 1 kilogram of shellac per ‘Palash’ tree has been distributed to the beneficiaries.

Farmers are gaining interests in Lac cultivation considering higher profitability. Interestingly, Lac cultivation is not an introductory activity in Purulia. History depicts the tradition of Lac culture in Manbhum areas, which includes the present Purulia district. Dire poverty and lack of governmental initiatives gradually eradicated this high yielding ‘cash crop’ production from its natural habitat. Finally, with the sincere effort of the present State government, Lac cultivation has been reintroduced in Purulia. It is estimated, that at least 20 thousand families living Below Poverty Line will be benefitted from this newly introduced Lac cultivation in Purulia district.

Collectively 13,198 plants have been inoculated so far, in two phases. 16,226 kilograms shellac been used as seed and the total number of beneficiaries are 3258 families. the forest department has already planned to involve 5000 more beneficiaries in the next year. An enormous enthusiasm has been observed among the local farmers and the forest staffs to make the effort successful, which can be sustained. It is difficult to assume that a drastic change in the socio-economic pattern of the district might reveal through this effort.

This is worthwhile to mention, there is heavy demand of lac at least in 170 countries of the world. But in strange paradox, such a vast international market has been fed by few countries; while India and Thailand appears to be the most potential producers. On the other hand, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal are the only lac producing states considering its natural resource base and agro-climatic condition. Despite few negligible reports, there are no such areas in the country which can produce lac in bulk quantity. In west Bengal, it is only possible within the district of Purulia.

The main advantage of lac production is of an internationally open market. So that the farmers need not think of it but to concentrate on higher productivity and it’s scientific management and care. Atleast 70 small and big lac processing unit are already exists in Purulia, having unlimited procurement capacity. Presently these units are continuing their business by procuring the raw meterials from Jharkhand, as lac cultivation has been eradicated from Purulia for last few decades. Consequently in spite of potentiality, Purulia couldn’t get reach of it due to lack of cultivation practice which is mainly derived from dire poverty and lack of governmental initiative. Most farmers do not have capacity to spend few penny’s for buying shellacs!

In contrary, this can be assumed that if lac cultivation spreads on all the host trees in Purulia may not reach to the procurement capacity of the existing processing units. No one be surprised if lac cultivation appears to be the key-hold factor in changing the socio-economic status of Purulia, in near future.  

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