The business of ‘Bloom’ing
Flowers. They spell colour, fragrance and festivity. They also spell money. Yes, the pretty blossoms are actually worth a pretty packet, and a global business of considerable proportions rests on their tender petals. Floriculture, say economists, is a ‘sunshine’ industry today. It has a bright future.
The flower route
It is, quite literally, a blooming industry, with a global turnover of over US $ 60 billion. The floriculture market has a very well demarcated trade link. Europe, Japan and the US are the bulk importers of flowers, while the ‘production’, meaning the actual process of growing the ware is mainly carried out in the West African and Latin American countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Columbia and Ecuador.
So what makes a country a good grower? Conducive climate, availability of land and labour, sound knowledge base (on the art of flower production) are the most-in-demand conditions. Africa has the largest flower market in the world, accounting for 90 per cent of the global production.
As of now, India contributes a meagre 0.38 per cent (US $47 million). Should it aspire to be a more powerful player in this arena?
Bouquet of toxins
May be it is wise to look around a bit and find out how the bulk growers are faring before taking the plunge. Because artificial cultivation of flowers in greenhouses is branded as one of the most polluting agricultural activities. No wonder most of the growing activities have been gradually shifted out to the poorer nations, during the past two decades, even though the rich countries remain the prime buyers. The Result? Giant portion of the industry’s profit is pumped back to the developed world, while the poor producers are left to deal with the damages…of the environmental kind.
Yes, the sweet smelling blossoms leave a severely toxic trail. Pesticide use in this industry is rampant. Flowers are sprayed with 50 times more chemicals than any other agri product. A worker in a greenhouse is exposed to about 127 different kinds of harmful chemicals in the form of fertilisers, insecticides, fungicides, and nematocides, which are mostly sprayed on flower crops without any proper standardization or precaution. These chemicals can cause cancer, birth defects, reproductive and nervous system damage, skin infections, miscarriages, serious respiratory diseases and even reproduction disorders Considering the fact that more than 190,000 people in Latin America, Africa and some parts of Asia are reportedly employed in the flower business, its impact on human health definitely requires attention.
Growing flowers require a lot of water. Ground water levels are recorded to have dropped drastically in regions where floriculture is practiced. The problem has scaled up more sharply because floriculture is being promoted as an alternative to traditional crops by the multinational companies. So flowers are taking over lands that grew food crops in the producer nations. This is not only taking a heavy toll on water and soil, but is triggering food shortages in some countries.
So whither India?
In India, the floral enterprise is growing by about 25 per cent over the last decade. Some experts consider it to be a goldmine, with promises of many employment opportunities, and a steady inflow of foreign currency. It is likely to flourish in the future. The varied climatic zones, the extremely wide and colourful range of indigenous species, cheap labour and land costs—-India does offer a very fertile ground for floriculture. Currently, flowers are mainly grown in four zones here– Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad and Delhi. Other regions where flowers are farmed are West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, North-east, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Jammu & Kashmir. The traditional varieties like rose, marigold, aster, jasmine are mainly consumed by buyers at home for devotional purposes, while the commercial blooms, including chrysanthemum, garberra, lily, tulip and orchids are produced for the high value global market. The total turnover of the traditional variety is around 105 crores and that of the commercial sector is around 100 crores. There is a growing demand for flowers in the fashion industry which uses the blossoms to make eco-friendly colours— the latest rage among the fashionistas.
In the year 2008-9 flower production amounted to 700 crores and for the current year 2009-10 the Planning Commission has targeted 1000 crores. Floriculture is practiced over 1.4 lakh hectares of land, producing around 6, 70,000 metric tonnes of loose flowers and 13,009.3 million cut flowers.
Not a bed of roses
Doing business with the flowers is, however, infested with many thorny issues.
1. There is severe shortage of the technology required to store, preserve and transport this highly perishable cargo from the field to the market. In Delhi’s Connaught Place mandi, for instance, where small traders do business, lack of clod storage and display facilities wreck havoc in the profit margins of the dealers.
2. Often farmers find it tough even to arrange for basic inputs like seeds and planting material. Mostly imported varieties are grown for export, so the costs soar.
3. The economies of scale do not work here. The Indian farms lose their competitive edge by virtue of being smaller in size (4 hectare average) as compared to the huge African farms (40 hectare average). African units are able to capture more market share and offer more diverse varieties. .
4. Indian flower cultivators need a lot more hand holding to become as market savvy as their counter parts elsewhere in the world. It is only recently that government funding through banks like NABARD has been arranged, and quarterly journals dedicated to floriculture have been launched.