Aroma of Success: A Bookshop Owner Now Runs a Successful Aromatic Oils Startup
Hit by the rise of online book selling, a bookseller in Odisha turned into a farmer and started cultivating aromatic plants. His startup, Utkal Aromatics, has an annual turnover of Rs 15 lakh.
Niroj Ranjan Misra 21 Nov 2023 2:15 PM GMT
Bhindhanima (Cuttack), Odisha
Pradeep Kumar Sahoo, a farmer from Bhindhanima village, is a famous name in the business of aromatic oils. The 39-year-old villager has set up a company — Utkal Aromatics Private Ltd in Cuttack, Odisha — which cultivates, manufactures and sells palmarosa oil and lemongrass oil that have medicinal properties and are in huge demand.
Sahoo cultivates aromatic plants palmarosa (palm rose) and lemongrass on 12 acres of land that he has taken on lease and earns an annual turnover up to Rs 15,00,000 (Rs 15 lakhs) through the sale of these aromatic oils.
He grows palmarosa on 10 acres of land and lemongrass on two acres of land. And sells about 1,000 litres of aromatic oils every year.
“I supply the aromatic oils to manufacturers of soaps, detergents, mosquito repellants and cosmetic products in various states including Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. These manufacturers use my aromatic oils to add incense in their products,” Sahoo told Gaon Connection.
Palmarosa and lemongrass essential oils have antibacterial and antiseptic properties. They are used to make various skin care cosmetics and healthcare products.
But before he became a farmer, Sahoo was a bookstore owner. It was the heavy losses in his books business that pushed Sahoo to try his hands at cultivating aromatic plants and he is now a successful entrepreneur.
From Books to Oils
Sahoo had a bookshop in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, which he started in 2008. It was doing quite well with him making a monthly profit of Rs 50,000. But when online bookselling caught on in 2016, the shop began to lose its lustre, and things took a further downturn with the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“My profits had reduced by half even before the pandemic began and I was having second thoughts about continuing with the bookstore when a friend, Sunil Sharma, suggested an unlikely alternative business to me — that of cultivating lemongrass and palmarosa,” Sahoo told Gaon Connection.
“My friend Sunil, who operates a transport business, had seen farmers in Gujarat and Rajasthan growing these aromatic grasses, and I got curious too. I began to gather more information about the whole thing,” he narrated.
In the due course of time, Sahoo got to know about the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), a government agency based in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, which promotes farming of medicinal and aromatic plants. He approached the scientists there to find out more about growing the aromatic grasses in Odisha.
After arming himself with all possible information on cultivating these aromatic plants, Sahoo began cultivating palmarosa and lemongrass in 2016.
In the early days of cultivation, he purchased 200,000 lemongrass saplings from a supplier in Koraput district at Rs 2.20 each, and began his farming career on 36 acres of leased land in Kankadahad block, Dhenkanal. The rent on the land was Rs 2,000 per acre per annum.
Sadly, his enthusiasm was dampened when the land on which he was growing the lemongrass got waterlogged, as it was low lying.
“I should have known better and grown it in the upper lands, where waterlogging does not occur. I had been hasty and not sought advice from people who could have set me in the right direction. So, I had to cancel the five-year lease contract and I left Kankadahad,” he said.
But he did not give up hope. When the pandemic struck, he decided to again try his hands at cultivation of aromatic plants. So in 2021, he started lemongrass cultivation in his village Bhindhanima, about 60 kilometres from the state capital.
At present, Sahoo has 12 acres of land on lease on which he grows palmarosa (10 acres) and lemongrass (two acres). Through his startup Utkal Aromatics Private Ltd, he supplies these oils to various companies in other states.
According to him, a quintal (100 kilograms) of palmarosa yields 50 to 70 litres of oil, while that of lemongrass provides 120 to 150 litres.
Sahoo sells palmarosa oil at Rs 3,000 to Rs 3,500 per litre, while lemongrass oil is sold at Rs 1,500 to Rs 1,800 per litre.
Talking about the benefits of lemongrass cultivation, Prasanta Rout of CIMAP’s Phytochemical Division, told Gaon Connection, “Lemongrass can be cultivated in areas that are rainfall deficient. One phase of sprinkler irrigation in a fortnight during summer is enough for it.”
“CIMAP promotes the cultivation of aromatic grasses as it can help raise farmers’ incomes. It is a cash crop and has commercial value. We provide 200-250 samples of lemongrass and palmarosa for free to encourage interested farmers to experiment with cultivating these crops,” the scientist added.
Sahoo’s success has inspired more than 100 farmers in the Bindhanima village in Cuttack to take up palmarosa and lemongrass cultivation.
Biswanath Patra, a retired official of the state steel and mines department, who lives in Cuttack, is one of them.
“I am presently cultivating lemongrass on 20 acres and will expand the acreage soon. Pradeep Sahoo has guided me well and always shares insight which helps me harvest a good yield,” Patra told Gaon Connection.