Ranganathan Ramani* & Bangali Baboo
Division of Lac Production, Indian Institute of Natural Resins and Gums,Ranchi 834 1010
Received 7th April, 2009; revised 28th August, 2009
Abstract : Lac is one of the important commodities derived from an insect source, besides silk and honey. Three components of lac find industrial use, viz., lac resin, wax and dye. It is produced by a specialized group of phytosuccivorous insects called lac insects (Order Homoptera: Family Tachardiidae (=Kerridae)), which thrive only on specific plant species called lac hosts. India is the global leader in lac production with mean annual lac production of 20,640 tons. In India, lac production comes mainly through culture of Indian lac insect Kerria lacca on hosts such as, ber (Ziziphus mauritiana), palas (Butea monosperma) and kusum (Schleichera oleosa). The lac growing regions are typically tribal-dominated exhibiting high proportion of people below poverty line and low level of literacy. A survey of lac growers in Jharkhand shows that income from lac cultivation is 26.4 per cent of farm income. Lac cultivation is a fairly remunerative activity to the grower, providing a net profit of Rs. 9,700 to 1.32 lakhs per annum per 100 trees, depending on the host species. Besides providing livelihood support to the growers, lac cultivation has other environment roles. Coupled with good price in recent years, good current and potential global demand for lac, there is enhanced interest level among farmers recently, to take up lac cultivation. But, in order to sustain this trend, there is need for a paradigm shift in lac production systems.
Lac cultivation needs to slowly shift from scattered lac host trees in and near forest areas to more compact plantations closer to dwellings of the lac grower. Lac host plantations should comprise of suitable mix of major lac host species and other species such as Flemingia spp. (which is quick-growing), Albizia spp., Ficus spp., etc. to ensure sustainable lac production. Novel lac host plantation concepts need to be developed for reducing the time of establishment. One such attempt involved establishment of high-density plantation of ber with a plant density of 7445 plants/ha in two years. Lac production needs also be integrated with existing cropping system of the farmer so that it will be more acceptable to him. Lac-integrated Farming Systems (LIFS) concept envisages judicious integration of various agricultural components for enhanced returns, sustainability as well as provides food, nutritional and income securities to the farmer. New insect-host combinations may be used for strengthening production and to overcome crop failures due to abiotic and biotic factors. Lac insect breeds differing for their maturity period will also ensure overcoming any major losses due to unusual weather patterns. More emphasis will have to be laid on soil moisture and nutrition management of host plants for enhanced productivity and sustainability. Impact of global warming is bound to have its impact on lac insect populations and associated biotic complex; suitable strategies need to be developed to mitigate its adverse impact. Lac production should slowly gear towards precision farming systems incorporating components to ensure stable production. Demand for organic lac is also anticipated, in view of its consumption areas. Consumption of lac can be sustained and enhanced only if supply is assured and price as well quality are maintained at acceptable level. This requires appropriate transformations in the lac production sector to take India’s lac production to new heights.