SOLAN, HIMACHAL PRADESH: While the government amidst a lot of skepticism is talking about doubling farmers’ income by 2022, the year India celebrates its 75th anniversary of independence, this tiny hill state is perched at a good height to make the target achievable.

Himachal farmers are saying it with flowers. Farmers in the state have keenly been taking to floriculture, earning achievements the government can showcase. They are facing problems when it comes to post-harvest management of their crop, but they are keen to take a lead.

“You can draw conclusions from the fact that Himachal had just five hectares under floriculture in 1990, and today this area has gone up to 918 hectares. This does not include big commercial farmers who have up to 150 hectares under flower cultivation alone. Our emphasis is now on having the right crop at the right place,” disclosed Y.C.Gupta, an expert in floriculture, to The Citizen on the sidelines of a National Seminar on Doubling Income through Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture held at the Dr Y.S.Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry here.

Farmers across the state are growing orchids, carnations, roses, gladioli, marigold and chrysanthemum. More recently they have been trying to cultivate lilies, in areas as far as the remote district of Lahaul and Spiti.

Dahlias are King

Just a few months ago the Regional Horticulture Research and Training Station at Dhaulakuan near Paonta Sahib in Sirmaur district was designated the lead centre of dahlia testing in India.

This has been a big shot in the arm for dahlia cultivation in the state, as the flower has been introduced here for the first time under a special project. Research conducted at the station could pave the way for its adoption by farmers for commercial cultivation.

The story began in 2016-17 when over 50 cultivars of dahlia of different shapes, colours, sizes and categories were introduced at the station from Uttarakhand and adjoining areas.

According to the station’s principal floriculturist Priyanka Thakur, the farmers of Himachal can adopt this new crop for cut-flower as well as pot-plant production, which will help in diversification and raise farm incomes.

The newly introduced dahlia cultivars are suitable for pot-plant production, borders, mass plantations, cut flowers etc. Cultivars like Matungini, Mother Teresa, Sister Nivedita, Tenzin, Suryadeva, Jishu, Gilody, and SP Kamla have been found suitable for low hill conditions. Matungini, Jishu, Sohini, Black Eternity, Surya Deva, Maa Sharda have been found suitable for cut flower production.

Dahlia which is often called the ‘king of flowers’ is grown for both indoor and outdoor elegance. The height of plants can vary from two-inch lollipop style pompoms to the giant 10-15 inch ‘dinner plate’ blooms that grow to a height of four or five feet.

Low Hanging Fruit

In 2016 the floriculture business across the globe amounted to 13 billion US dollars, Gupta said in his presentation, while India’s share in this market has remained static since the 1990s at 1.5 per cent, with the country’s exports going mainly to the Gulf and Japan.

Gupta added that Himachal can grow all the top ten houseplants and flowers that account for the majority of the floriculture business. According to his figures, farmers who have taken to floriculture are earning a minimum net return of Rs 2 lakh per annum.

Besides growing and selling flowers, floriculture encapsulates activities like horticulture tourism, using flower extracts for the pharmaceutical industry, and manufacturing dry flower products. Marigold extract is used in medicines for retina ailments, preparing natural dyes, and also as a poultry feed that yields orange egg yolks very low in cholesterol.

Similarly, dahlias too are used as cut flowers in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industries for the extraction of dyes.

An Una-based entrepreneur, Ravinder Prashar, has with technical guidance from the scientists of the Dr YS Parmar University developed incense sticks by utilising flower offerings from temples. The idea is to provide a novel solution to the problem of disposing of of flowers offered by devotees at places of worship.

Moreover, these flowers used in religious places and functions get a new lease of life in the form of incense sticks.

The process uses natural portions and essential oils from flowers to make organic incense, with no charcoal or any other synthetic chemical. And the process is completely carbon neutral. No waste is generated and even the unused portions of the flowers are being utilised to make compost.

Farmers Want Flower Mandis

However, farmers engaged in floriculture complain that there is no proper marketing mechanism in place. A large number of flower cultivators with whom The Citizen has been interacting at regular intervals, say that the primary requirement is that of flower mandis in the state.

“We have to make our own transportation arrangement to take our produce to Ghazipur in Delhi, where there are agents who take over. While we are paid a pittance, they make a lot of money. We know that there is massive demand for flowers for social gatherings and events besides at the top hotels, corporate offices etc. But in the absence of marketing knowhow, we are unable to earn what we should be getting for the efforts that we are making,” has been the common refrain of floriculturists from places like Shoghi, Chail, Kandaghat, Sirmaur etc.

Himachal floriculturists want that there should be centrally located mandis or produce markets within the state, besides proper transportation of their perishable produce to various cities.

Devinder Thakur who has been growing roses in Solan’s Dharja area says, “We even want to start manufacturing things like gulabjal (rosewater) and gulukand (rosepetal preserve) with our produce, provided post-harvest interventions come our way.”

Sources say that Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has been interacting with the experts on this issue and a blueprint for the future is being prepared. Not divulging much, they said that a proposal is being considered to establish a big mandi at Zirakpur or some other location near Chandigarh.

Here the produce of floriculturists from both Uttarakhand, Himachal, and maybe from adjoining parts of Punjab and Haryana will be collected for marketing to other parts of the country.

One thing is for sure: Himachal has the potential to become a leader in floriculture. It remains to be seen how the government facilitates tapping the potential of what the state’s farmers have begun.

Farmers say they are ready to do their bit by scaling up production. It is for the authorities to come up with required post-harvest interventions.