Aloe (Aloe vera) is an important and traditional medicinal plant belonging to the family Liliaceae. It is indigenous to Africa and Mediterranean countries. It is reported to grow wild in the islands of Cyprus, Malta, Sicily, Carary cape, Cape Verde and arid tracts of India. This is a hardy perennial tropical plant that can be cultivated in drought prone areas and is one of the crops whose potential is yet to be exploited, despite being identified as 'a new plant resource with the most promising prospects in the world'. In India, it is scattered in the wild, along the coast of southern India. China, U.S.A., Mexico, Australia and some of the Latin American countries are the major producers and exporters of aloe products. Presently, these countries are exploiting its potential especially with the growing demand amongst cosmetic and neutraceutical markets. Aloe can be a good substitute to the synthetic ingredients now being used in cosmetic industry.
2. Medicinal properties and uses
Aloe contains a mixture of glucosides collectively called 'aloin', which is the active constituent of the drug. ‘Aloin’ and its gel are used as skin tonic which has a cooling effect and moisturizing characteristic and hence used in preparation of creams, lotions, shampoos and allied products. It is also used in gerontology and rejuvenation of aging skin. Traditionally, aloe is extensively used in treating urine related problems, pimples, ulcers, etc. Further, aloin is extensively used as active ingredient in laxative and anti obesity preparations. In addition, products prepared from aloe leaves have multiple properties such as emollient, purgative, antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-fungal, antiseptic and cosmetic. The Food and Drug Administration of the USA has approved the developmental study of Aloe vera in the treatment of cancer and AIDS.
3. Package of Practices
Aloe has wide adaptability and can grow in various climatic conditions. It can be seen growing in warm humid as well as under dry climate. It is intolerant to extreme cold conditions. The plant flourishes well on dry sandy soils at localities with lower annual rainfall of 50 to 300 mm and needs to be protected against frost and low winter temperature.
The plant can be grown in a variety of soils ranging from sandy coastal soils to loamy soils of plains. It is sensitive to water logged conditions. The crop also comes up well in light soils. It can tolerate higher pH and high Na and K salts. Growth is faster under medium fertile, heavy soils such as black cotton soils. It grows well with thicker foliage in well drained, loam to coarse sandy loam soils with pH ranging from 7.0 to 8.5.
Commercially important subspecies are Aloe barbedensis, A. chinensis, A. perfoliata, A. vulgaris, A. indica, A. littoralis and A. abyssinica. National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, ICAR, has released varieties like IC111271, IC111269, IC111280 etc. Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Lucknow, has also released a variety, AL-1, for commercial cultivation.
It is propagated by root suckers or rhizome cuttings. For this purpose, medium sized root suckers are identified and carefully dug out without damaging the parent plant at the base and directly planted in the main field.
It can also be propagated through rhizome cuttings. In this case, after the harvest of the crop, the underground rhizome is also dug out and made in 5-6 cm long cuttings which has atleast 2-3 nodes on them. Rooting is done in specially prepared sand beds or containers and after it starts sprouting, transplanting is carried out. On an average, about 25000 suckers are required for a nursery of 1 ha size (10000 for 1 acre nursery).
3.5 Spacing and plant population
Normally a spacing of 90 cm x 45 cm is followed. This accommodates about 25000 plants per hectare.
3.6 Land preparation and planting
The land is ploughed and cross ploughed thoroughly. Farm yard manure is added @ 20 t/ha during the final round of ploughing. Ridges and furrows are formed at 45 cm apart. The plot may be irrigated if necessary and the suckers are planted, 90 cm apart.
3.7 Manures and fertilizers
The crop responds well to the application of farm yard manure and compost. During the first year of plantation, FYM @20 t/ha is applied at the time of land preparation and the same is continued in subsequent years. Besides vermicompost @2.5 tonnes/ha can also be applied.
Aloe can be successfully cultivated both under irrigated and rainfed conditions. Provision of irrigation immediately after planting and during summer season will ensure good yield. However, the plants are sensitive to water logged conditions.
3.9 Plant protection
Aloe is known to be infected by fungus causing leaf spot disease. This affects yield and quality of the gel adversely. The disease can be controlled by spraying recommended fungicides.
In order to facilitate healthy soil atmosphere, working of the soil by spading, earthing up, etc. are done in Aloe plantation. Weeding at regular intervals needs to be carried out.
The thick fleshy leaves are ready for harvest from the second year after planting. Large healthy outer leaves at the bottom of the plant are to be harvested by cutting close to the base of the plant at an angle. Normally, four harvests are taken in a year by removing three leaves per plant at a time. Harvesting is labour intensive. It is carried out in the morning and / or evening. The leaves will regenerate from the scar and thus the crop can be harvested up to five years after planting. Apart from leaves, the side suckers, which can be used as planting material, is also sold.
Plants start yielding after eighteen months. Yield could be as high as 40 tones of thick fleshy leaves from one hectare plantation. However, a conservative yield of about 25 t/ha has been considered for working out the economics in the present model. Suckers from about 50% of the plants can be sold annually. Commercial yield is obtained from the second year onwards till the fifth year. Replanting has to be done after fifth year.
4. Post harvest management & Processing
Aloe should be processed within a couple of hours of harvest so as to prevent oxidation. The Aloe leaf consists of three layers, a. the outer thick green rind , b. viscous, jelly-like mucilage layer into which the vascular bundles, attached to the inner surface of the rind, protrude and c. the fillet consisting of hexagonal structures containing the fillet fluid. The pericyclic cells located at the top of the vascular bundles contains the "Yellow Sap" or "Latex". This sap is rich in aloin and similar anthraquinones having laxative properties. Aloe leaves are processed either by the traditional hand filleting method or by whole leaf method.
The traditional hand-filleting method of processing of aloe leaves was developed to avoid possible contamination of the fillets with the yellow sap. In this method, the lower one inch of the leaf base (the white part attached to the large rosette stem of the plant), the tapering point (2-4") of the leaf top, and the spines located along the leaf margins are removed by a sharp knife. The knife, is then introduced into the mucilage layer below the green rind avoiding the vascular bundles and the top rind is removed. The bottom rind is similarly removed, and the rind parts, to which a significant amount of mucilage remains attached, are discarded. Another portion of the mucilage layer accumulated on the top of the filleting table is of critical concern because of the highest concentration of potentially beneficial aloe constituents in this layer. The materials of the mucilage layer, subsequent to their synthesis, are distributed to the storage cells (cellulose-reinforced hexagons) of the fillet which is extracted in this process. The hand-filleting method is very labour intensive and therefore machines have been designed and employed which attempt to simulate the Hand-Filleting technique.
In the whole leaf method, the base and tip are removed as previously delineated and then the leaf is cut into sections and ground into a particulate slurry. The material is then treated with chemicals which breaks down the hexagonal structure of the fillet releasing the constituents. These constituents are filtered by means of a series of coarse and screening filters, or passage through a juice press to get rid of the rind particles. The expressed juice is passed through various filtering columns which remove the undesirable laxative agents. This process, performed properly, can produce a constituent rich juice, virtually free of the laxative anthraquinones.
5. Technical guidance
Technical guidance for Aloe planters is available from different institutes and organisations such as Central Institute for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, National Research Centre for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, State Agricultural Universities, Regional Research Laboratories, etc.
6. Marketing and export potentiality
The produce can be marketed through different commercial pharmaceutical and herbal firms located in India. It is traded in processed form such as gel, juice and concentrate. Aloe is present in over 80 per cent of the cosmetics in the European market. However, export of products of Aloe is yet to take off.
7. Financial aspects
7.1 Unit cost
In the present model, the unit cost for the development of Aloe vera in 1 ha of land works out to be Rs.87500.00. This may be modified to suit the local conditions taking into account the different techno-economic parameters prevailing in the locality. The cost of cultivation of Aloe vera and techno economic parameters are given in Annexure I & II respectively.
7.2 Margin money
The margin money / down payment prescribed is 5 %, 10 % and 15% for small, medium and other farmers respectively. The rest of the cost of development will be provided as bank loan. However, in the present model, 10 % of the unit cost i.e. Rs.8800/ha has been considered as margin money.
7.3 Bank loan
Bank loan of 85 - 95 % of the total cost of development shall be available from the financing institution. Bank loan considered in the model is 90%. It works out to Rs.78700/ha in the model.
7.4 Rate of Interest
Banks are free to decide the rate of interest within the overall RBI guidelines issued from time to time. However, the ultimate lending rate has been considered as 12 % for working out the bankability of the model project.
Banks are guided by RBI guidelines issued from time to time in this regard.
7.6 Financial analysis
The financial analysis has been done considering the income from the leaves which is the primary product of the crop. The details of the financial analysis are shown as Annexure III. It may be observed therefrom that cultivation of aloe in one hectare is financially viable. The major financial indicators are given below :
NPW at 15% DF : 53129
BCR : 1.39 : 1.00
IRR : > 50%
7.7 Repayment schedule
The bank loan along with the interest can be repaid within 5 years including 1 year of grace period. The details are furnished in Annexure IV.
It is one of the commercially attractive medicinal plants that can be cultivated in India, even though it’s potential is yet to be exploited. Cultivation of Aloe is a technically feasible, financially viable and bankable activity.