Smells like a fortune: Rising demand for kewda oil a blessing for 200,000 people in Odisha’s Ganjam

Price of a litre of kewda oil increased to Rs 5 lakh from Rs 4.5 lakh last year
Photo: Ashis Senapati
Photo: Ashis Senapati

Families in the coastal pockets of Odisha‘s Ganjam district have been eking out a living by preparing aromatic kewda oil for years, and a recent growth in demand has put a smile on their faces. 

Ganjam kewda (Pandanus fascicularis) oil is steam-distilled from the flower of the aromatic screwpine plant and used as an aromatic in the food industry and other sectors. It is registered under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 by the Government of India.

The flower is harvested from around 5,000 hectares in the district. Its oil is produced in Ganjam, Chatrapur, Chikiti and Rangeilunda blocks of the district, said Narendra Sahoo, a kewda flower oil maker from Chikiti.   

For around 200,000 people living in 220 villages of the district, it is the main source of income. The farmers and collectors receive an advance from Ganjam’s oil makers who buy the flowers from them during June to September — the harvesting season, said Dandapani Sahoo, a kewda flower collector in Chatrapur. “Farming of kewda flowers has been a source of livelihood since the time of our ancestors.”

Kewda oil makers sell to Kannauj, Agra, Kanpur, New Delhi, Mumbai and other places at around Rs 5 lakh a litre, said  VV Rama Rao, officer-in-charge and senior scientist of Fragment and Flavour Development Center (FFDC) extension unit at Berhampore, Ganjam under the Union Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. “Every year, kewda farmers, flower sellers and oil makers earn around Rs 50-60 crore.”

The price per litre of kewda oil was Rs 4.5 lakh last year, said Sudrashan Patra, secretary of Shree Sidha Bhabani Kewda farmers association, Mahasahipentha village in Rangeilunda block. “Rising kewda oil prices have put a smile on the faces of farmers and oil makers.”

A kewda oil distillery in Ganjam district, Odisha. Photo: Ashis Senapati

Earlier, in the absence of adequate marketing facilities, farmers would be compelled to resort to distress sale of flowers to middlemen, according to Rao. “We formed flower producer groups and fixed the price of a flower at Rs 10-12 to eliminate the role of middlemen and provide proper marketing facilities. As a result, kewda oil makers are now purchasing flowers directly from the producer groups.”

FFDC is also training oil makers and helping them purchase modern equipment to start distilling units through the government-managed District Industry Center, the official said. 

At present, there are around 160 distilling units in the district, he added. “The District Industry Center provides loans of Rs 25-30 lakh to locals to set up a distilling unit.”

An oil maker needs 30,000 flowers to extract a litre of kewda oil, according to Rao.  

“For generations, we have been extracting aromatic oils from kewda flowers in our distillery unit. Demand for locally made aromatic kewda oil is increasing by the year due to the availability of good quality kewda flowers in our area. We get orders to supply kewda oil from many reputed food, zarda (flavoured tobacco) and pharmaceutical companies,” said Nakul Nayak, owner of a distilling unit in Biswanathpur village.

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