This is not because of any government grant but voluntary work put in by students on a nine-acre tract of wasteland next to the school. They were farming lac on the palash trees on the wasteland. They generated Rs 12,000 in ’05 and this year the figure will rise to Rs 15,000. More importantly, the students passing out are now equipped with a skill—that of farming lac.
Dr Moni Thomas, a scientist from Krishi Vigyan Kendra, a unit of the Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University, Jabalpur, is behind the revival of lac farming in this tribal belt comprising Shahdol, Anuppur and Balaghat districts. And the school in Upma is not the only beneficiary. His effort has helped hundreds of farmers boost their income. A side benefit is that it gives the community a solid reason for protecting the palash trees for it is on these trees that the lac-producing insect thrives.
Lac—commonly recognised as the red sticks used for sealing parcels—is a natural resin of insect-origin. The lac insect, Kerria Lacca, sucks the sap of the host plant and secretes lac. The secretion, which is deposited on the body of the insect in layers, forms its protective covering. At the end of the season, the branches carrying the dried up secretion are harvested and scrapped to obtain lac. It is then processed to produce industrially usable shellac which is used in cosmetics, aeronautics, paper, paints and varnish.
The maharaja of Rewa, Gulab Singh, had established the country’s first shellac factory at Umaria in Shahdol district in 1903. The annual trade of lac and its products was to the tune of Rs 10-15 lakh till the 1940s. Thereafter, the business died and farmers forgot lac farming.
More than fifty years later, in 1997, Thomas struck upon the idea of reviving lac farming while looking for ways to protect the palash trees. His inspiration was Ram Manohar Patel, a ninety-year-old farmer who had worked at the maharaja’s shellac factory.
The project has come a long way. Though only one to two per cent of the palash trees. in the region is being used for lac cultivation, the scope for expansion is tremendous. For instance, Sanjay Kumar Asati of Lamta village, Balaghat district, turned to lac four years back. His 22-acre plot yields around 15 to 20 quintals of lac. "Lac not just alleviates poverty but also protects the environment," says Thomas.
Contact Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Shahdol, Madhya Pradesh—484001. Tel: 9425184255