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10th January '2010
Cut Flowers Taking Off?
 

One positive fall out of the Tulip-o-Mania has been the initiatives being taken by the private sector for starting large scale production and marketing of seeds and cut flowers. This sector of our economy had mostly remained untapped because of lack of drive and initiative at the top. Moreover, the persons looking after floriculture had been motivated by their higher ups mostly for concentrating on the ornamental side of flowers without exploiting their commercial potential. The Department was earlier known as the Gardens and Parks Department and their job was limited to taking care of Mughal Gardens and other parks in different parts of the state.

 

In early nineties a lot of interest had been generated in the cut flowers as the authorities were very keen in giving a boost to this project. Bulbs of Tulips and Gladiolas worth lakhs of rupees were imported from Holland. In fact, these were also sown on experimental basis in Jammu in Muralian, Kud, and some other places. The growth was amazing. The stems from these flower plants were better than those imported into state from Delhi and other places. The growing of Gladiolas in Jammu generated so much interest that even the then Governor, his Advisor on Floriculture, and the Planning Commissioner visited Muralian to see for themselves these flowers. The Project received a boost. A number of green houses were set up in the seed farm at Siraji Bagh. People got very much interested in these cash crops. Government was also giving handsome assistance in furthering the growing of these flowers. However, the main handicap had been the absence of a cold chain and a good marketing agency. Had the initiative taken then been supported by the subsequent rulers and carried to its logical conclusion by providing these basic in puts, large number of people would have taken to growing of cut flowers on the pattern of apple orchards? However, the project remained in the limbo and the attention got diverted to ornamental floriculture.

 

Over last couple of years there has been revival of the initiative and considerable progress seems to have been made in this direction. Project appears to be handled now by experienced and dedicated people. According to figures available from the Floriculture Department over 1,000 private growers of cut flowers have been so far registered by the department. A number of young men have taken up growing of different varieties of cut flowers and their seeds in different parts of the valley. One entrepreneur in South Kashmir is exporting seeds and cut flowers in lakhs every year. Similarly, there are other youth in Budgam, Srinagar, and Baramulla who are doing commendable job in furthering this new avenue which has tremendous possibilities of employment. Most of the growers are from the younger age group. The impetus has been given by the de-centralisation of the project initiatives. Earlier everything was centralised in Srinagar. Now the department has appointed district level officers to take care of the growers. In addition, a number of incentives are being given such as buy back of excess seeds etc. Entrepreneurs are being trained both within the state and outside. Growers are getting exposure outside state to various skills and methodology adopted by some professional growers already in the field for a long time. Substantial assistance has been forthcoming from the Central Government Technology Mission and the National Agricultural Knowledge Programme. The department has received Rs.4 crores for setting up a cold chain including a cold store at Siraji Bagh. The department is also receiving assistance from the National Medicinal Plants Growing Mission.

 

There is extensive possibility of growing Medicinal Plants including those used for making exquisite perfumes. One could think of setting up some perfumeries in Kashmir? However, in spite of these achievements, the full potential of this sector remains still unexploited. Given the right initiative and full backing of the government both the Central and the State, it could even compete with horticulture in production and gainful returns. Above all, it could create a totally new and productive avenue of employment for the youth. However, there are certain deficiencies which need to be taken care before cut flower production can become a major initiative. First is the paucity of land. The major chunk of land in Kashmir after agriculture has gone to horticulture for growing the cash crop of apples. In fact, the agricultural land which used to be paddy land has been converted in many places into orchards, residential colonies, shopping complexes, and in a number of cases for farms growing Russian, Italian, and Australian poplars. These are not only a health hazard but create extensive pollution by their seeds and nectar. One has to somehow convince the growers that it is worthwhile to reserve some land for commercial floriculture. This sector needs more hard work than growing of apples and other fruit. It is a delicate job and can be easily undertaken by educated youth who need to be trained in the field. Next comes the full utilisation of the Central Schemes in this sector. All Central Schemes can be tapped only if the State Government takes interest in the project and provides matching grants as well as trained personnel to handle these. It is precisely in this sphere that State loses initiative to other similarly placed States who take full advantage of these schemes. The top leadership in the state has to take commercial floriculture as a priority sector and not remain glued to ornamental gardens and parks. It would be advisable for the State Government to set up a core group or a task force having some private players as its members to monitor and expedite various activities of the project. This will definitely give boost to production.

 

Apart from assistance in production, there is urgent requirement for ensuring fool-proof lifting and marketing of the product. Due to their fragile nature the flowers have to be handled carefully and stored and transported in refrigerated atmosphere. This is where a cold chain comes in. Again the experience of setting up such sensitive and delicate systems/organisations under state control has not been very good. There is hardly any accountability in the government. The ideal thing is to involve the private sector. In early nineties, TATA Group had shown interest in taking over this side of the project provided the turn over was five crores or above. At present there may be many more private players interested in the project especially with the up gradation of the Srinagar Airport into an International Airport providing access to the global markets. In view of the initiative and the enthusiasm shown by the young private players in the sector, it is the most appropriate time for the state government to step in this field in a sincere, dedicated, and honest manner so that a new productive sector of the economy flourishes. For such a thing to happen, as mentioned by me in an earlier article, Kashmir needs a Budshah and not a Jehangir right now! Let us hope we have one?

 
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