Kerria lacca, a tiny insect, feeds on leaves of some trees and secretes a resin known as lac. The resin is processed to yield shellac, which has uses in the aeronautics, paper, paints and varnish industries.
Lac harvesting, traditionally done by tribal families living in and around forests, is a huge and sustainable industry as the insect feeds on the tree without killing it. However, lac production is not done in a systematic and scientifically and commercially sound way in most tribal villages.
One such village is Gawrai, about 6 km from Pandharkawada town in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra (Vidarbha).
The village, which has 85 Wadi plots, is surrounded by small hills with good forest cover. Farm bunds in the area have plenty of naturally growing palas ( Butea monosperma) trees. The situation was judged to be ideal for the introduction of lac rearing activity by MITTRA cluster staff.
A hardy tree tolerant to heat, drought and grazing, Palas is one of the best host trees in India for lac rearing.
While some families in Gawarai regularly harvested lac from Palas trees growing in the surrounding forests, none knew that the same lac could be deliberately reared on Palas trees in farms.
The farm of one Devidas Wadhdu Poyam was selected for demonstrating lac inoculation. There are about 1000 palas trees on his 1-acre farm. Of these, 100 trees were inoculated in November 2007 with brood lac imported by MITTRA from Seoni district of Madhya Pradesh.
Inoculation is done by tying sticks with the brood lac to the canopy of trees. Initially, farmers in Gawarai were reluctant to do this work and lac inoculation was done with the help of students, who tied the brood lac on the lower branches of trees. Many insects fell on the ground and the brood lac thinly inoculated only around 50 trees.
In the following lac swarming season of June-July 2008, the lac was allowed to spread naturally to other parts of trees.
In the November 2008 lac swarming season, the Palas trees in Devidas’s land were full of brood lac. A programme was organised on his farm to develop awareness about lac rearing among Wadi farmers.
The life history of the lac insect and technique and economics of lac inoculation/ rearing were explained to farmers using lac insects. Of the farmers present, 19 had natural host plants on their farms. Each of them was given a stick of brood lac to try lac inoculation on their own.
Similar efforts have been undertaken in other Wadi clusters in Vidarbha by MITTRA, to ensure that a large number of farmers take to lac rearing on naturally growing or specially planted host trees like palas and ber.
Instead of the traditional method of lac harvesting with use of an axe, harvesting with secateurs is promoted. Destruction of forest trees for obtaining lac is thus curtailed.