The sour side of lemon grass business

Difficulty in getting helpers hinders farmers involved in the business 

Community: Working at the lemon grass distillation unit located along the Mongar-Trashigang highway in Zangpong, Kinzang Tshomo, 32, is not at all bothered by the heat or the rain.

It has been about four months now since Kinzang Tshomo, a single mother of three, started the distillation unit in Zangpong where lemon grass grows in abundance.

Today, Kinzang has employed some helpers while some of her neighbours also work with her. The workers gather lemon grass and collect firewood while Kinzang Tshomo handles the distillation process.

For Kinzang Tshomo, this is her only source of income after she could barely earn much from her farm. “It’s like a blessing in disguise,” she said, adding that she learnt lemon grass extraction about three years ago.

Over the past four months, Kinzang Tshomo and her helpers managed to extract about 80 litres of lemon grass oil. She sold about 50 litres of oil to the Sanam Phendey Tshogpa that deals in oil development programme at Sherchu in Chasakhar gewog.

Kinzang Tshomo earned about Nu 45,000 from it while the she managed to earn an additional Nu 50,000 from the site selling the lemon grass oil to commuters along the highway.

However, Kinzang Tshomo said that with the overhead cost, there was not much profit from the business.

Kinzang Tshomo said they are able to extract only about four litres of lemon grass oil in 24 hours.

Kinzang Tshomo said that there are two types of lemon grass. The best lemon grass, she said is grown in Drametse from which more oil can be extracted. Kinzang Tshomo has an arrangement with the Drametse community forest from where she collects lemon grass paying an annual fee of Nu 4,000.

“As I don’t own a vehicle, it’s an issue,” she added.

Likewise, Sonam Dorji from Pam village in Chasakhar gewog, who recently started lemon grass business, said that although rewarding, it was a tiring job. “If everything goes well this time, I’ve a bigger plan for the next season,” he said.

Another challenge for those venturing into lemon grass business is the difficulty in getting helpers or workers especially during the transplantation and harvest seasons with most farmers busy in the fields.

Kinzang Tshomo’s neighbour and helper Tshewang, 68, works for 24 hours along with her at the distillation unit for which he gets paid Nu 500 a day. The rest like lemon grass collectors are paid Nu 250 a day and they work from 8am to 6pm.

Lemon Grass Oil Cooperative’s (LGOC) chairman Tenzin Namgay said that the past two years recorded about 170 members from Trashiyangtse, Trashigang, Lhuentse and Mongar.

During the season, the members in all extract more than 14 metric tonnes of lemon grass oil that is supplied to LGOC.

However, the cooperatives is seeing a drop in its members from Trashiyangtse.

Lemon grass oil production in Bhutan started in 1980 with Tashi Commercial Corporation initiating the move. The government intervened in 1989 with the Food and Agriculture Organisation establishing two distillation units at Lungtenzampa in Trashigang and Pahadang in Mongar.

Tashi Phuntsho, Mongar

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