The Fragrance of Success
IVLP alumna Dr. Gazalla Amin broke into the male-dominated farming sector to start cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants in Kashmir.
In her novel “Practical Magic,” Alice Hoffman writes these words of folk advice: “Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck.”
Planting roses and lavender can indeed bring luck, especially if we look at the story of Dr. Gazalla Amin, who has achieved tremendous success by cultivating these aromatic flowers on her ancestral land in Kashmir.
Lavender is by no means native to Kashmir, but it has proven to thrive in the region’s unreliable climate. Thanks to Dr. Amin, Kashmir is now associated with lavender and other aromatic and medicinal plants, and the essential oils extracted from them. Kashmir now even holds an annual Lavender Festival to celebrate its cultivation in the region.
Dr. Amin has dedicated herself, over the past decade, to farming roses, lavender and other aromatic and medicinal plants, and helping other farmers in the region, especially women, gain success. She is the founder and chief executive officer of the Srinagar-based Fasiam Agro Farms, which produces essential oils and beauty products, and the founder and chairperson of Women’s Association of Kashmir Entrepreneurs, which works to empower women entrepreneurs in the Kashmir Valley. Dr. Amin is also an alumna of the International Visitor Leadership Program, the U.S. State Department’s exchange program for professionals.
Dr. Amin has put Kashmir on the map of the essential oil industry, and her company produces and exports lavender oil, rose oil, geranium oil, rose water, lavender water and other essential oils under the brand name Pure Aroma. Her work in the farming sector in India and her initiative to help other women get involved in this sector has been widely recognized and rewarded. In 2011, Dr. Amin received a Progressive Farming Reward from the Jammu and Kashmir government, and in 2013, the India Today Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award. In addition, Dr. Amin also formed the Jammu & Kashmir Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Growers Cooperative with over 300 members who receive planting material and training for the cultivation of aromatic plants.
A decade ago, when Dr. Amin, a medical doctor by training, visited her native Sonawari village in the Bandipora district of south Kashmir, she noticed the land was not yielding much crop. “The land there was lying neglected and barren. I realized I could make a difference in the local community by involving them in cultivating crops that would be commercially viable,” she said in an interview to Deccan Herald. This was her moment of inspiration.
She began her business by cultivating lavender and roses on her half-hectare farm, which quickly expanded to nine hectares. Fasiam Argo Farms is now spread across three farms in the districts of Pulwama, Baramulla and Bandipora, and employs 150 families.
“This is a rewarding industry. If you tell a farmer that he can earn a great deal of money from cash crops like lavender and rose, he will never think of selling his land for peanuts. This is a huge problem in Kashmir—fed-up farmers selling their land to property developers. I have resolved to motivate farmers across Kashmir to remain hooked to their agricultural land and get as much from it as they can. I am proud to be a farmer and I want every other farmer across Kashmir to take pride in what they are doing,” Dr. Amin told New Agriculturist online magazine.
At the moment, her three farms are struggling to keep up with the demand for essential oils. “India has a vast market potential for lavender and other ornamental plants. So far, we have only managed to tap a tiny share within the country,” she told The Indian Express. With Dr. Amin leading the way, the industry can expect substantial growth in the coming years. As she The Indian Express, “Farmers can replace maize in dry zones with lavender plantation, as it fetches good dividends and needs little water.” This utilization of land and creation of sustainable businesses for farmers presents much opportunity for local farmers.
Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.