This New Year, greeting cards of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI or Pusa Institute) will have real, dried and preserved flowers on them, instead of floral prints. Significantly, these dry flowers will be sourced from rural women who have learnt to process the surplus produce of their floriculture farms into value-added products to supplement their household income.
Many of these women in the villages around Delhi have taken to flower dehydration in a scientific manner on a cottage scale. They churn out dry flowers-based fancy and utility items like greeting cards, bookmarks, wall hangings, paperweights, table mats, dry-flower arrangements and so on.
Scientists of IARI’s floriculture and landscaping division are providing women with technical and other assistance for this purpose. The technique of retaining the original colour and shape of fresh flowers in the dried end-products is a special feature of IARI’s flower-dehydration methods that have been passed on to not only women, but to other flower growers as well. These attributes of the finished, value-added products are ascertained by comparing them with the globally-recognised standard, “colour chart”, issued by the Royal Horticulture Society.
Going by the assessment of T Janaki Ram – who has been associated with the development and promotion of the flower-drying technology at IARI – women engaged in this activity manage to earn between Rs 5,000 and Rs 6,000 a month. The dry flowers-based, value-enhanced products that cost them Rs 30 to Rs 40 a piece normally fetch substantially higher prices in the market — even Rs 100 or more a piece if sold at airports and tourist shopping centres. IARI’s initiative is viewed as a step towards financial empowerment of rural women who are otherwise woefully handicapped in this respect.
Floriculture is emerging as a fast-growing sector of Indian agriculture, chiefly in response to the ever-swelling demand for flowers in the domestic and export markets. The export demand is mostly for fresh-cut flowers produced in modern floriculture farms. The global market for dry flowers is relevantly small, though it is expanding rapidly. The domestic flower market, on the other hand, is dominated by loose flowers that are used for making garlands and decoration on social and religious occasions. A bulk of small and marginal flower cultivators around cities produce traditional flowers like marigold, rose, chrysanthemum, crossandra and tuberose for sale as loose flowers. However, they face high marketing risk owing to wide price fluctuations as a result of frequent variations in demand and supply.
Simple mechanisms for converting surplus production into value-added products, thus, come as a boon. The techniques evolved for this purpose by Pusa floriculturists, though easy to adopt, vary for different flowers and, in some cases, even for different varieties of the same flower. The preservation of true colour and other morphological traits of florets remains the hallmark of all these technologies.
The process for dehydrating Indian varieties of marigold, for instance, involves press-drying flowers in a microwave oven for 120 seconds. Calendulas need to be press-dried in a microwave oven for 90 seconds. Certain varieties of roses need to be embedded in sand and dried in hot air oven at 40 to 45 degree Celsius for 48 hours to keep their original hues intact. Freshly-harvested chrysanthemums can be dehydrated by embedding them in silica gel and drying in hot air oven at 45 degree Celsius for 48 hours.
A large number of farm women in some villages of Gurgaon and Faridabad districts of Haryana have come forward to get training from IARI experts for drying flowers and making valued-added products. In some places, these women have been prompted to form self-help groups of 10 each to take up the production of flower-based fancy and functional products for their livelihood. These groups, moreover, are assisted by Pusa floriculturists in establishing market links for the sale of these products. IARI is in the process of signing memoranda of understanding with prospective entrepreneurs for the commercialisation of technologies on a larger scale as well.