Blooming Business

The start of conflict proved devastating for Kashmir’s flower business as people shunned the trade en-masse. But a new boom in the market has encouraged young entrepreneurs to become florists. Syed Asma reports the change

Pic: Bilal Bahdur
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

In the last few years, flowers have become an indispensable part of Kashmiri marriages. The trend that was adopted by a few elite families slowly trickled down and became part of the popular culture. Sensing boom in the market a new breed of young entrepreneurs’ started to invest in the sector.

According to official data available with state’s floriculture department there are around 1150 flower growers spread across Srinagar, Budgam, Islambad and Kupwara districts of Kashmir.

However, the number is assumed to be more as all the flower growers are not registered with the department.

Javaid Hussain, a resident of Chandpora, Harwan, says with pride, “Our’s was the only area which was into flower business from the very beginning [since decades].” Hussain being into the trade for past two decades says the sales have gone up in last three years.

He inherits the trade along with 10 kanals of land from his father where he grows marigolds and gladiolus in bulk.

His father has been doing quite well in this business but when Hussain took over in early 1990’s the political turmoil played a spoil sport. His major customer base, Kashmiri Pandits, shifted from Kashmir.

“Till 1990’s most of our flowers were sold in temples across Kashmir but when they migrated, our business went down.”

Almost the entire population in Chandpora was associated with the trade and did not have enough resources to send their products outside Valley.

Most of them left the trade and started exploring other options for livelihood. But Hussain was adamant, so to survive he changed his business plan. Instead of growing cut flowers having commercial importance he concentrated on producing flower seeds and steadily started supplying it outside the state.

Seeds did not need intense care for maintenance as cut flowers do, so he could manage easily. Today he supplies seeds in quintals that fetch him a good profit.

The surge in cut flower sales in Kashmir has acted as a boom for all the flower growers, the old ones are happy with the sales and the new ones are getting encouraged to invest.

Hussain, a school drop-out remembering all the complicated names of flowers along their botanical families seems contended now and says the business is again picking up. “Last two years have fetched me a profit of around Rs 2 lakh.”

Among the new investors and florists is Shahnawaz Rasool Dar. Academically a civil engineer from Jamia Millai, Shahnawaz left his job three years back in an MNC to be a florist. Dar was serving as a deployment head of Jammu and Kashmir in the company.

He owns 30 kanals of land in Mirgund on city outskirts. Talking about the benefits of investment in floriculture, Dar says that it [floriculture] does not need much of land or investment in general.

“I started with a single poly-house spread over 150 sq meters, which makes about 5 marlas, and earned profit in 3 digits,” says Dar. “5 marlas is about ¼ of our orchards and makes us earn same profit if not more.”

Presently, Dar has a couple of poly-houses and seems contended with the profit he is earning. It is in lakhs per annum, he says.

Even irrigation is not an issue as flowers need drip irrigation rather than huge canals that are required in conventional crops.

Sharing somewhat similar opinion, Pran Dullo, the project officer, Department of Floriculture, says if the sector is handled and organised properly it has the potential to add three to five folds more revenue than the conventional crops.

Besides, experts say that the quality of flowers grown in Kashmir is better than those produced in Europe, even when the seed or the bulbs are procured from those places.

The lilium bulbs imported from Holland lasts in a vase for ten days. They do not have aroma and have less shelf life. On the contrary, the same flowers cultivated in Kashmir have aroma and stay fresh in a vase for 22 days.

The new entrepreneurs prefer to invest in the cut flower business and seeing the demand they grow the varieties which are not indigenous and thus need protected environment, that is – poly houses.

The varieties that florists in Kashmir grow and supply in and outside state include – tulips, lily, gladiolus, marigold, alstroemeria, and carnations apart from the indigenous variety of rose and lavender.

Tulips, Lilies and Carnations are among the most expensive flowers grown and supplied outside the Valley. Marigold, because of its religious significance in mainland India, is supplied in bulk.

Each year the flower spikes worth crores are supplied outside the state besides various varieties of seeds.

The ratio of Kashmir flower supply is negligible but the florists are hopeful that it will pick up in the coming years.

“Our contribution is almost negligible. We may be supplying flowers worth three crores every year which is less than daily flower sales in Delhi,” says Parvaiz Qalandar, “Its 3.5-4.5 crores in Delhi.”

Qalandar is a pioneer in this business and owns a couple of flower farms.

The main customer base of the local flower grower is Srinagar and Delhi. In Srinagar, the sales are high during summers when most of the marriage ceremonies are held. But for rest for the year Delhi is the destination for Kashmiri flowers.

However, the major share of Delhi flower market is covered by Himachal Pradesh.

People associated with the sector believe that organised sector and continuous transport facility plays an edge for Himachal’s larger share in the market.

“In Himachal the growers work in clusters and pool in all their products at a single point which is not true with us. We work in scattered manner and reach the market in ones or two’s, which does not fetch us much,” says Dar. “Besides,” he adds, “weak connectivity and poor transportation also discourages us.”

“We have a single SRTC bus plying direct to Delhi, how will we compete with Himachal Pradesh?”

Apart from road connectivity, high air freight also discourages the growers to send their supplies outside the state.

The growers though appreciate the state and central sponsored scheme in floriculture, complain about the lack of assistance in reaching the market.

Even the floriculture department that looks after the issues related to florists is in its infancy as it used to be part of Agriculture department till 2007.  Previously the department was supposed to maintain Mughal gardens and VIP houses only. Even the records in the departments are not properly maintained.

Experts believe, if the sector is organized properly, it could add to state’s economy in a big way.

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