They may never replace the roses, and they may not be as beautiful as the carnations, gerberas and orchids. that are used to make houses and offices look good. But the future lies in plants, not flowers, claim India’s 10,000-odd nurseries.
The owners of these nurseries, who call themselves nurserymen, say the government should look to promote plants, or the business of growing them, which is called horticulture, instead of flowers or floriculture. Their rationale: Floriculture requires more investment and technology-support than horticulture.
“It is necessary to understand that under Indian conditions, where the labour is largely unskilled and availability of finance is a major constraint, growing plants could be a more viable alternative to growing flowers,” says Sangram Jagtap, secretary of the Maharashtra chapter of the Indian Nurserymen Association and a member of the governing council of the National Horticulture Mission. Jagtap estimates the size of the market for plants, the kind that are used for decoration, at Rs2,000 crore and says this number is rising fast.
Maharashtra’s experiments with floriculture, like other states’, haven’t been very successful. In the mid-90s, when the floriculture bug bit several entrepreneurs, companies announced 39 floriculture projects. Today, only 14 of them are operational, says V.D. Patil, the state’s director of horticulture. “Unavailability of skilled labour was one of the reasons why the corporate sector units had to shut shop,” says Raj Kumar Mirakhur, a floriculture consultant.
Nurserymen say that a floriculture unit needs at least five acres of space, while a horticulture one requires just one-eighth of that. In and around Pune, the really smart farmers are selling the bulk of their land to real-estate developers for huge profits, and retaining small parts for nurseries.
Jagtap runs Tukai Exotics, a 60-acre nursery and farm that sells 1,300 varieties of plants to other nurseries in Pune. Last year, he set up a branch of the nursery on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, where his Mumbai clients could make a quick trip to pick up their plants. Jagtap’s visitors include not just home-makers, but also many architects. who buy huge quantities of ornamental plans for corporate clients and designer homes.
Demand for plants is also pouring in from West Asia. Nurserymen in Pune say they regularly send large consignments to the region. Exporting plants isn’t easy, says Jagtap. Only plants in non-soil media can be exported, but under current laws, doing that becomes a non-agricultural activity. The laws also say that growing plants in containers is also a non-agricultural activity. “If we are serious about horticulture, we need to revisit some of the existing rules. We need a well-thought-out plan to address the export markets,” says Jagtap.
India has been pitching itself as a serious player in the global floriculture market, but has been able to make only a marginal impact. While the international flower trade is currently valued at $11 billion (Rs48,400 crore), Indian exports are to the tune of about $70 million. “Plants can be grown and exported at our convenience and we won’t need to follow the demand cycle for flowers in various countries,” says Jagtap.