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13 Jan

Sea buckthorn-A Goldmine of Ladakh

Ladakh region, whose economy is based on the tourism industry, has many other resources other than the tourism to offer in the global market. These resources either are underutilized to their existing potential or are left to waste. One of these resources is sea buckthorn fruit (well known by Leh berry brand) which was till recently not having an economic utility. It has a tremendous potential of Rs 500 billion market worldwide because of its magical features that is why it is also called magical fruit in the world.
This fruit is found at different places of the world on high altitude areas (cold desert areas) and China is the market leader in its production, processing and export. In China Sea buckthorn is cultivated on one million hectares of land and by the end of 2004 it was a multi billion agro-enterprise there. However in India this fruit is growing in Utranchal, Skimm, Urunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. In Ladakh it was grown earlier primarily for saving the soil erosion as it has a well-nit root network. But now it is found in abundance in Ladakh especially in Chushot, Shey and Nobra valley on a vast area of 1.3 lakh hectares of land in wild form with tremendous potential for its further cultivation. Due to its wild form in Ladkah it is more organic, which is highly demanded in international markets than the sea buckthorn fruit from China which is cultivated there by using pesticides.
There is a huge demand for this magical fruit from different markets in the world due to the presence of more than 100 nutrients, 8 vitamins, 24 minerals an 18 amino acids viz linolenic acid, vitamins E, A, Caretone, polyphenols, flavonoids, phytosterols, iron, copper, manganese, selenium and high quantity of antioxidants . This wonder fruit has energy giving properties and is extensively supplied to the defense persons on the high altitude areas. The most strange property of this fruit is that it does not freeze up to the minus 20 degree while as other juices in the world freeze on the minus degree. This is the only fruit in the world which has the highest quantity of antioxidants and these antioxidants have anti aging and anti cancer properties, that why its juice is being highly demanded in the international market especially in the developed countries. In the medicinal world its therapeutic, anti-carsenic, anti-aging antibacterial, anti-inflammatory pr0perties are marvelous, for the treatment of the hypoxia, stress, cancer etc. However in the cosmetic industry its oil has tremendous demand from all multi national companies for its use in fairness creams, moisturizers, anti-aging and anti-wrinkle creams. The most important usage of the sea buckthorn is for anti-radiations and anti-aging and Mir Space Expedition was the first spacecraft where cosmonauts used sea buckthorn to protect themselves from exposing their skin to high radiation in space.
This wild fruit was not harvested till recently in Ladakh because of the lack of knowledge of its market, lack of entrepreneurial ventures in its processing, lack of investment and lack of the Government interest in developing it in to big industry. It was D. K. Mittal an outsider entrepreneur who first initiated to exploit this treasure in Ladakh on large scale by establishing a 4.8 crore rupees initial investment in Ladakh Food Limited (LFL) in Leh in 2001 for pulping and processing of this fruit. The Mittal named the product as the Leh Berry and this magical sea buckthorn fruit of Ladakh started to be identified by the Leh Berry in the market. However LFL was shutdown shortly by the Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) because of his financial crime. With the result the local cooperatives started to emerge in its cultivation and pulping by establishing small units. But these cooperatives because of their low investment, inaccessibility to the huge capital, lack of the modern technology in its harvesting and processing and lack entrepreneurial attitude in its cultivation, harvesting and processing, this natural resource is not exploited fully in Ladakh as in 2006-07 only 81 MT and in 2004-05 only 117 MT were harvested and pulped, while as there is potential of 10,000 MT every year from its wild produce and its cultivation has not been yet been endeavored.
The practice of cultivation and processing of sea buckthorn (Leh Berry) is still conventional in Ladakh which leads in loss during harvesting and irreparable damage to the plants. There is also a very low value addition in its processing, with the result the major part of the profits goes to the outside entrepreneurs as it is being supplied out in pulped form. Till now it is only the juice which has become the focal point in its processing while as the sea buckthorn oil has more demand than the juice which is an unexplored area, requires a lot of intervention in the form of policy making in order to bring it in the mainstream economy of J&K. In this regard Jammu & Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI) in Collaboration with the Agriculture and Processed Food Export Development Authority (APEDA) conducted recently a workshop at Leh on “Cultivation and Processing of Sea buckthorn Fruit” for a policy formulation so that this unique treasure will be fully exploited for the benefits of the farmers, agri-entrpreneurs and Ladak’s economy and for the generation of employment.
Therefore we need to think about this resource for exploring the possibilities of exploiting rather than letting it waste. This unique natural resource which is scarce in the world and has a tremendous market potential. Even we can monopolize international markets because of organic agri-produce and our policy makers shall take initiative in taping this gold mine of the State.