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Maharashtra’s Blooming Flower Industry Succumbs to COVID Chills

The lockdown has hit the floriculture industry in the state with farmers under huge debts already. It will take more than a year for them to tide over this.
Maharashtra’s Blooming Flower Industry Succumbs to COVID Chills

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

Bharat Kadvekar has a polyhouse over one acre and ten gunthas of farmland at Kodoli in Kolhapur district where he grows the gerbera flower. The period between March and June is the season for these flowers and his polyhouse produces five thousand gerberas per day. A single flower fetches between five rupees to seven rupees and he generally makes between Rs 25,000 and Rs 30,000 a day. However, these are not normal times.

With a lockdown in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bharat has not been making any money. All of his flowers are being thrown into the adjoining farm as organic manure. Due to the restrictions on movement, the flowers cannot be transported to Mumbai or Pune. Since March 23, he has not sold a single flower and by April 29, he had made a minimum loss of Rs 10 lakh.

"I have a loan of Rs 60 lakh. I got Rs 30 lakh as subsidy by the government but I will have to repay the initial amount. I earn around Rs one crore every year, but this season is over already. We are doomed," Bharat said, speaking to NewsClick over the phone.

The story of jasmine production is similar. Satara's Wai and Patan tehsils, both known for producing sugarcane, have seen jasmine production in recent years. Close to the Western Ghats, the climate favours jasmine cultivation. Prashant Naikwadi Patil is a young farmer from Wai tehsil who used an acre of his land to grow the flower.

He said that jasmines generally fetch about two rupees per flower in the markets of Pune and Mumbai, but with a lockdown, there is no transport and there have not been sales. Though the jasmine is not his primary crop, the shutting down of markets has resulted in losses for him. "I could have grown 100 tonnes of sugarcane in the same area. But I decided to experiment and come up with something new. It has now failed," he said.

Prashant was expecting a batch of around 700 to 800 flowers every day – he would earn close to Rs 1,500 on a daily basis. With 38 days of the lockdown, Prashant has lost around Rs 60,000 in this period.

Maharashtra is one of India's biggest states for floriculture and was the first state to have a policy for floriculture and horticulture in the 90's. Since 1993-94, hundreds of farmers from across Maharashtra have taken to floriculture and cultivated domestic as well as international markets for their flowers. Roses, gerbera and jasmine are of the major flowers that are being produced and exported to the European and American markets. However, both the markets are shut, and the Indian farmer has nowhere to go.

The story of rose farmers is worse. Maval, a tehsil in Pune, is otherwise famous for its holiday destinations, resorts and exotic restaurants. Folks from Mumbai and Pune visit on the weekend. However, it is also India's largest rose-producing tehsil.

Shivajirao Bhegade is from Maval and the chairman of the Pune Flower Producers Association. According to him, Pune’s flower business has been facing a loss of Rs 1 crore daily since March 23.

"Pune district produces 24 lakh flowers per day and 99% percent of these flowers are roses while the others are gerbera and jasmine. If we calculate based on their minimum cost, the loss comes to around Rs 96 lakh per day. It has been happening since March 23. So, for the last 37 days, Pune’s flower producers have faced a loss of close to Rs 37 crore," said Bhegade.

Devdatta Tingare from Maval grows roses over half an acre of land. His polyhouse project was worth about Rs 35 lakhs of which he got a subsidy of Rs 10 lakh.

"I was expecting business of at least Rs 20 lakh this year, but the lockdown has poured water on my plans of repaying a good chunk of the loan. Even if the market starts during the end of May or June, that does not mean that people would start buying roses on the first day itself. It is not an essential commonality. So for us, this season is completely gone," said Devdatta.

The plants need fertilisers, medicines and water on a daily basis, adding to costs. While there is no income, the expenditure has not stopped, adding to the burden on farmers.

"These are also days when diseases spread to flowers. Mice and caterpillar are major problems and farmers need medicines to protect their plants. These medicines are very expensive," said Bhegade.

As of now, these farmers have loans of tens of lakhs of rupees, some with debts of over a crore. A loss of the entire season could put these farmers in big debt. So, they have been demanding that the government intervenes. Bharat said that while the industry has been flourishing in the state, it “has grown despite all odds with just the hard work and skill of the farmers,” he added.

As per him and also other farmers, they need a waiver of one year's interest and also postponement of installments by one year. "If they give us these two benefits, this industry will be on its feet by the end of next season," said Bharat Kadvekar.

As of now, Maharashtra’s agriculture department has not issued any particular order about losses in the floriculture industry. According to a primary report by the agriculture department, almost 15,000 hectares of land was under floriculture this year. According to the cooperative and marketing department, a few major markets like Byculla in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Pune's market committee do business of between Rs 300 crores and Rs 350 crores during summer.

"We will immediately start surveying the losses of farmers as soon as the lockdown is revoked in the state. Even if it is partially lifted, we will ask officers to begin work immediately. This is for all crops including floriculture," agriculture minister Dada Bhuse told NewsClick.

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