Cut flower growers, who earned handsome forex in 2019, are now battling for survival. With no support for revival, several cut flower growers in Tamil Nadu have shifted to vegetables that are in great demand.
India exported 16,949.37 tonnes of floriculture products worth of Rs.541.61 crore in 2019-20 to the US, The Netherlands, Germany, UK, Gulf countries, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and Japan.
With a 20% annual growth, floriculture saw a huge upswing in production and value in 2018. Several farmers, who realised the immense potential to enhance income of small farmers, shifted to floriculture, including cut flowers. Today, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and West Bengal are major cut flower production centres. Farmers grow cut flowers in around 2,500 acres in Tamil Nadu.
In March, Corona pandemic destroyed their fortune and dashed their hopes. With closure of borders and restrictions on ceremonies, demand for flowers dipped, pushing the high growth sector into a deep crisis. Earlier, many farmers shifted to cut flower cultivation from traditional flowers to tap the international market.
International and domestic markets were closed overnight. Entire floriculture operation came to a standstill. Suddenly, farmers realised that they do not have any place to sell the flowers that have blossomed in their gardens. Cancellation of flights crippled exports.
“Unlike other crops, we cannot stock and sell flowers or postpone harvesting. Flowers should be plucked and sold on a daily basis. Otherwise, flowers will wilt,” says R. Murthy, president of Flower Growers’ Association of Tamil Nadu.
Profit is high for cut flowers, so also investment. At least, Rs.45 lakh per acre is required for setting up a poly house to cultivate cut flowers under controlled climate conditions. In addition, Rs.3 to Rs.4 lakh per month is needed to meet maintenance, labour, fertilizer and pesticides costs. Moreover, floriculture is labour-intensive, he adds.
Major cut flower markets are in distant places such as Bengaluru, Mumbai, Goa, Kolkata, Delhi and foreign countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Middle East.
“North Indian farm labourers only have maintained the majority of flower farms in the State, particularly in Kodaikanal, so far. Corona forced them to return to their native places. We do not know when they will come back. With no labour for maintenance, several farms are highly damaged,” Mr. Murthy says.
“Even before the Corona pandemic, exporters struggled to export flowers owing to sudden hike in cargo flight charges. All international carriers doubled freight charges. Air cargo charges for Australia and New Zealand rose by Rs.80 to 90 a kg. For example, freight for one kg of cut flower is Rs.450 to New Zealand, Rs.600 for Australia and Rs.250 for Malaysia. You imagine the freight charge of a 15-kg box of cut flowers. Besides freight, exporters invest in packing and cold storage. Now, the cancellation of flights has shut exports. Cut flower industry has incurred a huge loss of Rs.100 crore in just six months,” Mr. Murthy points out.
To prevent further deterioration, the government should at least treat floriculturists on par with other farmers and extend aid and help to them also.
The flower grower recalls that the Centre had announced several incentives and subsidies for the agriculture sector. But nothing has reached floriculturists in Tamil Nadu till now. Maharashtra State Government extended financial support to 7,000 flower growers. Karnataka too supported its floriculturists. Floriculturists appealed to the Tamil Nadu Government for funds and support. But it ignored their demands. Flower growing area in Tamil Nadu is larger than northern hilly regions like Uttarakhand and Chattisgarh.
Now, flower growers face shortage of capital investment, scarcity of trained manpower and lack of technological support. Adequate air freight space, sophisticated cold chain facility, cooperation between states and countries, sufficient transport facilities are essential to revive the cut flower industry. But, how long will it take to streamline these facilities? No one knows.
With no help, several floriculturists have shifted to vegetables, thanks to growing demand during the Corona period. While cut flower growers in Hosur have shifted to capsicum, floriculturists in Kodaikanal have preferred garlic, potato and other vegetables to cut flowers. Minimum labour is enough to maintain capsicum farms. Four workers can maintain a capsicum farm whereas a flower farm requires at least 15 labourers. Farmers, who spent lakhs of rupees in poly houses, cannot afford to lose them.
Paradigm shift is not good for the floriculture industry. To prevent further deterioration, the government should at least treat floriculturists on par with other farmers and extend aid and help to them also. Financial assistance is a must for rehabilitating farms. Planting materials can be given to them at subsidized price for revival of cut flowers and subsidy for replanting. Further delay will certainly speed up deterioration.