Lemon grass is a perennial grass with a light lemon scent and flavour. It is mostly native to India and Asia and farmers in USA do grow it a lot.
In Africa it is commonly grown by farming communities in South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Madagascar and Uganda.
Because of high demand, Ugandan farmers have taken to growing the herb. Farmers are processing and packaging it in small containers sold in major towns including Kampala.
This grass has a rich flavour of lemon citrus as well as a herb for seasoning. Lemon grass essential oil is used in aromatherapy, cosmetics, and on natural insecticides
Dr Amos Weentaro Aturinda, an agronomist from Mbarara Zonal Agricultural Research and Development institute-MBAZARDI, in an interview with Seeds of Gold gives excerpts about best practices farmers should adopt to get good harvest from lemon grass
Climate and soil
He explains that there are two types of lemon grass the red type with red stems referred to as Indian type and the Madagascar type with green leaves.
The grass grows well in clay- loom soil comprising 5.0-8.4ph, the soil should be well drained and in poor soil types. Farmers are advised to add organic manure and nitrogen although most areas in Uganda meet the soil standard.
Planting and cultivation practices
• If a farmer wants to get best yields it is better to use the stems for planting. This is after preparing the soil well.
• The green type produces seed but it is not used for planting. It is better to plant them in a temperature which receives enough sunshine that is between 10 – 35 degrees Celsius.
• The rainfall must be uniformly distributed throughout the year and that is between 700 – 3000 ml. The more the rainfall the more the production and in case of lack of rainfall farmers are advised to practice irrigation.
• The spacing must be 20cm by 40 cm and plant 125,000 plants per hectare. In less rainfall areas this can be reduced to 50,000 plants per hectare. The planting season is when the rains start and farmers must avoid planting lemon grass in cold areas.
• It is important to apply potassium and Nitrogen in the soil and that is 50 – 120 kilogrammes of NPK per hectare.
• Farmers can intercrop with beans and groundnuts for fixing nitrogen in the soil and this is done when they are still young.
Farmers are recommended to use hand or hoe weeding method and to realize better oil content, it is important to keep the farm weed free.
Pests and diseases
Lemon grass can be attacked by pests such as nematodes from the soil which destroys its roots and this can be controlled using soil heat method where farmers are advised to cover the plant with white polythene papers to exact heat which causes the pests to die. There are diseases such as Long smut, red leaf spot, leaf blight and rust which are fungal and can be controlled by spraying the farm with appropriate fungicides
Most countries known for growing lemon grass do mainly for processing the oil used for making finished products as mentioned above.
Farmers are in Uganda have already established markets from companies that are purchasing and exporting them abroad
Under good management a famer is able to harvest about 20 – 50 tonnes of fresh stems per hectare per year capable of producing 100 – 250 kilogrammes of oil and farmer practicing irrigation can get 500 kilogrammes of oil per hectare.
Harvesting and storage
• A well taken care of farm takes between six and nine months for the plants to mature. It is important to harvest the stems and leaves using knives by cutting.
• Harvesting must be done during morning hours when moisture is moderate. Farmers are advised not to cut the stems completely down to enable the grass to grow again.
• What is planted can be harvested for six consecutive years and the yield keeps increasing as the plant regrow. This depends on good management practices
• Farmers are advised to store the harvest under shed for three days before they can proceed to process the stem for extortion of oil and grading of the oil depends on what is called citra contend in thee stems.
• It is important to dry the leaves quickly to avoid rotting and this must done under moderate sunshine to avoid leaching of the aroma. In Uganda people cut the grass and roast it for processing tea.