Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Scented Orchids Project in Sikkim

Gangtok, Sept. 15: Two institutes here are working on a three-year project for commercial exploitation of scented orchids in Sikkim, an endeavour that could be the first in the world.

The Sikkim Himalayan region, comprising the hills of Sikkim and Darjeeling, has about 450 species of orchids, of which 70 are scented, said the National Research Centre (NRC) that is working on “a value chain on selected aromatic plants of Northeast India”.

Established in 1996, the NRC is based in Pakyong subdivision of East Sikkim and conducts research on high-altitude orchids. In this project that started in March, the NRC is working jointly with the College of Agricultural Engineering and Post Harvest Technology which comes under the Central Agriculture University based in Ranipool, East district.

NRC director R.P. Medhi said most people are familiar with orchids only as cut-flowers. They are little aware of scents like lemon, jasmine, hyacinth, orange, chocolate, coconut and vanilla emanating from orchids. “Our role is to conduct research and develop planting material (of the scented orchids) through tissue culture. We have to first develop production protocols and methods for a large scale of cultivation of scented orchids,” said Medhi.

The NRC is currently working on five scented species found in Sikkim — Aerides odoratum, Dendrobium crysotoxum, Coelogyne cristata, C. flacida and Zygopatalum intermedium.
In response to a query, the NRC director said no information about any research conducted on scented orchids is available so far, suggesting that the project in Sikkim is probably the first of its kind in the world.

“World demand for aromatic plants and their products is increasing and India’s prospects depend on focusing on value added products, consistent drive and quality, and ensuring competition through enhanced productivity. The aromatic orchids have to be brought under large-scale cultivation to maintain their continuous supply. The small and marginal farmers in Sikkim need to be encouraged to grow the aromatic species,” said Medhi.

He, however, said the quantity of fragrant essence, which can be extracted as well as the market value of the product, is still to be worked out. But the fact that a scent of an orchid is on sale itself is enough to attract a lot of attention, Medhi said.

NRC principle scientist D. Barman said progress had been made in tissue culture of the scented orchids. “We have so far generated around 5,000 plants (by tissue culture). However, we have not achieved significantly in extraction of essential oils from the orchids. We are still conducting analysis,” he said.
P.K. Srivastava, the dean of the College of Agricultural Engineering and Post Harvest Technology, said his institute would provide engineering support on how to harvest and extract essential oils from the orchids.

“We have already set up a pilot extraction plant at the institute. Even after the extraction of essential oils from the orchids, some fragrance will be left on the plants which we are planning to use for incense sticks,” said Srivastava. He said his institute would train farmers who take up the cultivation of scented orchid species.

“Once the farmers take up the cultivation of scented orchid species, we will allow them to use our extraction plant. We can also develop a portable extraction plant for self-help groups,” said the dean. He added that the cost of an extraction plant starts at Rs 1.5 lakh.

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