Lemongrass is a green, spiky grass which proliferates as ground vegetation in waist-high mounds. In some countries the herb is believed to guard against anxiety, in others to help with coughs. In the mountainous climes of Bhutan lemongrass grows wild. But as one of the kingdom’s resident lemongrass experts, Karma Yanka, explains that paradoxically its people don’t ingest it.

For the people of the kingdom it is the distillation process for lemongrass and the export market for that extracted oil which has proven valuable. It only became an official registered cooperative in 2011, but the Lemongrass Cooperative in Bhutan’s eastern dzongkhags, or regions, had been operating on cooperative principles before that.

Its 170 members, of which more than 70 per cent are women, have been working together informally to distil and sell lemongrass oil since 2007.

The cooperative exports through a business called Bio Bhutan which manufactures soap and other products using the special oil. It also exports oil to neighbouring India, Nepal and to Thailand.

The kingdom’s Ministry of Economic Affairs has run the Essential Oils Development Program since 1993 which assists in building the lemongrass manufacturing industry in the remote, eastern regions. Marketing support is provided by the Department of Cottage & Small Industry, Ministry of Economic Affairs.

For those living in hillside villages in the country’s east, lemongrass oil manufacture is the best business to be in. Profit margins from this industry are higher than in any other in Bhutan.

Story from “Building a Better World: 100 stories of co-operation“, published by the ICA.