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There’s more to mejankori than silk

- Mysore plantation to use leaves for essential oils & medicine at international level

Jorhat, May 13: The leaves of the mejankori tree will now be used to produce more than the lustrous ivory silk that once went into the making of robes for the Ahom royal family.

The leaves, used to feed silkworms, will now be used to make perfume and medicinal oil that are in great demand internationally.

Mysore, another silk bastion, has set up the first mejankori plantation in the country with saplings from the Northeast supplied by the North East Institute of Science and Technology (NEIST) here.

Scientists of this premier research institute under the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research are on a fast track to make the plant commercially viable in India, especially the Northeast through seedling propagation technology, through extraction of its oil, in great demand in the perfumery and the pharmaceutical industries.

Subhan C. Nath, chief scientist of the medicinal and aromatic plant division of NEIST, said it has been established that mejankori is one of the 15 essential oil-bearing plants in the world. “Despite mejankori being indigenous to the region, this potential has not been tapped here. China and Vietnam have captured the international market in mejankori oil,” Nath said.

“The ingredient found in mejankori that is used in the perfumery industry is also found in lemon grass, extensively grown in different parts here. However, the international market for lemon grass oil dwindled as it could not compete with the cheaper and qualitatively better mejankori oil supplied by China and Vietnam,” he said.

Scientists of the division had screened all the varieties of mejankori available in this bio-diversity hotspot and found a variety, which yielded oil qualitatively better than that produced by China and Vietnam.

In 2006, NEIST got a patent for this variety after establishing its superiority. Since then, it has been working on a technology that enables largescale production of saplings, to be supplied to farmers.

“Another factor we are working on is how to make harvesting cheap as the tree grows to quite a height. If we can work something out to make the plant grow like a tea bush, it will work wonders,” he said.

The scientists have hit upon propagation through seedlings and were mulling tissue culture propagation in which many plants can be grown through very little material from the mother plant.

Nath, however, could not say how mejankori would fare alongside tea as a cash crop in this region.

He hoped that farmers would take to it as it had great potential in the international market. “A firm in Mysore, the Natural Essential Oil Company Pvt Ltd, is the first to take this plant from us. The plant will bear the seeds after five years and if they succeed, I hope farmers here take to this more,” he said.

One litre of mejankori oil sells for Rs 800-900 in the international market.

Muga silkworm rearers no longer prefer the mejankori tree because of the greater percentage of deaths of the silkworms and subsequent losses.