Floriculture farming is a profitable and a preferred option for farmers. And on Valentine's Day a single stem of rose- the token of love- fetches them Rs 12-15.
February has over the years become the month to profess love, communicate sweet nothings to the beloved, and exchange gifts. Yes, we are talking about Valentine’s Day on which a simple stem of red rose — the token of love — becomes one of the most desired commodities and fetches the maximum price to everyone involved in the value chain.
“In the month of February alone, we export close to 7.5 lakh roses to both the domestic and international market. On days closer to February 14, we get Rs 10-15 per stem from the market auction where the wholesalers and retailers purchase flowers from us,” says Nagarjuna Naidu, Product Head of Tanflora Infrastructure Park.
This Bengaluru-based government-sponsored organisation grows the largest number of red roses in the country and engages with 25 farmers on its project site in Hosur, the city which exports the largest number of roses in India. In Hosur and its adjoining areas, there are over 250 government-assisted and 55 privately-owned cut flower production units.
Demand for roses
The demand of long-stemmed flowers, especially roses, is but a recent trend witnessed in India.
Traditionally, floriculturists focussed on growing short-stemmed flowers, including marigold and crossandra, primarily because the usage of flowers in the country was limited to religious purposes or for the making gajra worn by women.
As a ‘modern’ floriculture practice, cultivation of long-stemmed flowers is primarily concentrated in parts of Pune and the southern belt of India.
“The trend for long-stemmed and cut flowers has grown in the past 15 odd years. Although it originated in the early 90s, it has picked up in the domestic market only recently,” says Milind Manerikar, Chief Executive Officer of Sankalp Farms, a major rose grower near Pune.
Most major floriculturists focus on international market and exports rather than the home market due to the high cost involved in the maintenance of the polyhouses, where these flowers are cultivated.
“You cannot grow them in open because there is a risk of exposure to the natural elements, which is not consistent throughout the year. Polyhouses ensure higher productivity but the downside is that they require a huge capital investment. As a thumb rule, you need anywhere between Rs 45 to 50 lakh per acre to install one floriculture unit,” Milind explains.
Milind’s Sankalp Farms is a collective comprising eight farmers, who in turn have employed 100 farmers and casual labourers.
Domestic markets function according to the demand which peaks only during special occasions such as the Valentine’s Day or the wedding season; hence, cultivators cannot depend on this business for a steady income. Instead they opt to export at least 60 percent of the produce to the international market where they are assured of the quantity and quality required throughout the year in the last week of December itself.
“From January itself, we start looking forward to this season. The United Kingdom and Europe have a high demand for cut-flowers because people there frequently use flowers as gifts for every occasion. Since the climatic conditions in these countries do not allow the flowers to grow at this time of the year, we get a lot of consignments,” says Shivprasad G, a floriculture farmer from Hosur.
The maximum price for a stem of rose is pegged anywhere between Rs 12-15 on February 13, while the price drops to Rs 5-6 on February 14. On an average day, the cost per stem ranges between Rs 3.25 and Rs 4.25 in the domestic market. An acre of polyhouse gives more than seven lakh stems a year.
Struggles each day
Despite the average growth of 15 percent annually, floriculturists battle challenges in varied forms each day.
“Right from planting, utmost care needs to be given to the plants to achieve the expected productivity levels. A day’s delay in spraying could sometimes be catastrophic to the extent that it could wipe out the production for two to three months,” says Satyajit Gantayat, Co-founder of Urban Harvest, a Bengaluru-based floriculture startup.
Right from the materials used for the polyhouse, to its cross ventilation for controlled climatic conditions, there are numerous technicalities involved in rose cultivation. The ongoing operations involve regular de-shooting, bud-capping, harvesting, and de-weeding, apart from fustigation and sprays.
Further, Milind explains that though a polyhouse enables cultivation in a controlled environment, the production is not completely immune to the climatic conditions outside.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, it is possible to control the natural elements up to 6 points only. We have to adapt to the weather demands — if the climate is too dry we have to increase the water supply; if it gets too wet we have to allow for ventilation of air; and so on,” he says.
Currently 248, 510 hectares of land in India is under floriculture cultivation. In 20140-15 1,658,000 tonnes of short stemmed flowers and 472,000 tonnes cut flowers were produced in 2014-15. Of this, 22,086.10 million tonnes worth Rs. 548.74 crore were exported globally in 2016-17.
Besides, the entry of Kenya and Ethiopia with their premium quality roses and competitive pricing has posed a challenge to the Indian exports. Yet, floriculturists remain positive.
“These countries do not hurt us. They cater to a different market while we focus on Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Middle Eastern countries,” Nagarjuna shares.
However, the dent on the finances is visible. While the international price for Hosur flowers has been pegged at Rs 17-18 per stem as compared with Rs 7-14 in the Indian market, the price in the domestic market has dropped to Rs 130 from last year’s Rs 210 - 220 for a bunch (one bunch consists of 20 roses.)
“Demonetisation also hurt us since 85 percent of floriculture trading is primarily dependent on cash,” Milind adds.
Yet, floriculture farming is still a profitable and a preferred option.
“Despite the note bandi, we managed to stay profitable. We didn’t make any loss, and recovered the input cost. That was good enough,” Shivprasad concludes.