Kashmiri woman turns barren land into lavender farm; clocks Rs1 crore annual revenues

Rubeena Tabassum began lavender cultivation on a barren hilly land in rural Budgam, taking a personal loan when banks denied her business loan. The successful entrepreneur now sells aromatic oils and other products, clocking Rs 1 crore in annual revenues

Sameer Showkin Lone
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Rubeena Tabassum at her lavender farm in Budgam

Rubeena Tabassum at her lavender farm in Budgam

Rubeena Tabassum, a resident of Chadoora in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, was married soon after she passed class 12. Tabassum had no idea what she wanted to do in life, but she was clear that being a typical housewife wasn’t her cup of tea. 

Her in-laws supported her in completing graduation. In 2006, she heard about a 10-day programme on avenues in floriculture by the Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) and applied for participation. She was selected for the programme that opened her eyes to the world of agri-entrepreneurship. Interested in flowers and gardening since childhood, she decided to turn her hobby into a business after attending the training.

The flowering of a business

Rubeena began a cut flower business, which was a new concept in Jammu and Kashmir at that time. Cut flowers are cut from the plant with some stem and leaf, and are used for decoration. They are a significant segment of the floral industry globally.

India produced 958 thousand metric tonnes of cut flowers in FY23 and exported floriculture products worth Rs 707 crore during that fiscal, according to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).

Rubeena started a cut flower business by cultivating carnations and lilies on four kanals (half an acre) of land taken on lease from one of her relatives. 

"I sold them at the flower market in Delhi and was pleasantly surprised by the positive response," she says.

working at farm
Workers harvesting flowers at Rubeena Tabassum's farm. Pic: Kashmir Aromatics

She decided to take a loan to grow the business. However, Rubeena didn't receive any support from banks, as most financial institutions were unsure if her plans would succeed. “As a result, I had to take a consumer loan (which comes at a much higher interest rate),” Rubeena tells 30Stades.

Also Read: 65-year-old woman turns barren land into organic farm of medicinal plants, earns Rs50 lakh annually 

Her cut flower business grew rapidly and she also began selling to wholesalers in Jammu and the local markets apart from Delhi. The Jammu and Kashmir Bank noticed her business acumen and growth and she was given the Woman Entrepreneur Award in 2007. Since then, there has been no looking back.

Lavender farming and oil extraction   

While undergoing the EDI training in 2006, Rubeena had also heard about lavender farming for the extraction of aromatic oil. At that time, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research - Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (CSIR–IIIM), which researches medicinal plants, was working on lavender cultivation in Pulwama. 

“Lavender was not a popular crop back then. But I had learnt that Kashmiri lavender is among the best in the world because it is rich in nutrients and high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties,” the woman entrepreneur says.

So in 2008, she took 500 kanals (62.5 acres) of land on lease in Khan Sahab area of Budgam district, about 40km from Srinagar. The land was barren and lying vacant at that time. “Due to low fertility, the land was not used for agriculture. But lavender can flourish in low-fertility soil. So I decided to go for lavender plantation and subsequent extraction of aromatic oil,” Rubeena says. The Technology Mission of the Floriculture Department provided initial support for this project.

Also Read: Lavender cultivation pushes up J&K farmers’ incomes 4 to 5 times

Lavender can grow in low-fertility soil, making it a profitable crop for farmers. Pic: Kashmir Aromatics

Lavender is an aromatic flowering plant cultivated extensively across temperate regions. Fresh flowers are used for decoration and aromatic oils and dried flowers are used as a culinary herb, in soap-making and for other cosmetic purposes. 

Lavender is gaining popularity among farmers in Kashmir as it does not require much water and can tolerate moderate frost and drought. 

Rubeena planted lavender and it began flowering in the second year. While planting lavender is a one-time cost, the other annual expenses are mostly on removing weeds and harvesting flowers. “A good plantation can provide income for 10 to 14 years if managed well. Kashmiri lavender is in demand globally,” the agripreneur says.

Lavender entrepreneur

She installed high-tech steam distillation units for the extraction of lavender oil and also to make rose water. She named the company United Floritech, which sells products under the Kashmir Aromatics brand. 

Also Read: This Kashmir farmer earns Rs 50,000 daily through vermicompost

Farming of lavender is similar to saffron and its production increases with each succeeding year, says Ghulam Hassan, a senior official in J&K Floriculture Department. He says the saplings are planted in March and are ready for harvest once they have fully grown floral stems. 

Lavender and rose-based products. Pic: Kashmir Aromatics

“Around 2 litres of oil is extracted from flowers per kanal of land,” the official points out.

Though Rubeena started with cut-flowering, diversification into lavender, has been a stellar success for her. “A litre of oil can fetch up to Rs 10,000,” she says, adding that she extracts around 40 litres of oil from her land annually. 

The rest of the crop is processed for other purposes, like dried lavender buds that sell for Rs2500 per kg. She also makes other essential oils including rose, rosemary, and geranium, besides rose water. “Rose oil sells at Rs 15 lakh a litre. But its extraction is cumbersome as one litre of rose oil requires a large amount of roses,” Rubeena says.

The realization of revenues depends on several factors like environment and location. This fiscal, Kashmir Aromatics is set to clock a turnover of Rs 1 crore, she points out. She sells the oils to wholesalers and retailers at designated malls within and outside Kashmir Valley. “Our products are also available on our website, IndiaMart, Amazon and other online marketplaces,” she adds.

Tabassum has seven permanent employees and around 100 people work on a contractual basis. “Our annual salary bill is around Rs 15 lakh,” she says.

(Sameer Showkin Lone is a development professional & a journalist. He is a former Aspirational District Fellow (Bijapur, Chhattisgarh) at the Government of India. He writes on internal security, Kashmir politics, development & governance, education and health issues)

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