By Surinder Sud
A new body seeks to integrate scattered R&D to meet the needs of a growing export and domestic market.
Floriculture has traditionally been treated as part of horticulture, though cultivation of flowers is quite different from that of other horticultural crops, such as fruit and vegetables. This has deprived floriculture of exclusive attention and necessary research and development (R&D) support needed to realise its full potential. Yet, this sector of high-value agriculture has grown rapidly in the past couple of decades, driven largely by demand.
In the past, the demand for flowers was basically for the purpose of decoration, garland-making and religious and other ceremonies. This demand was being met by growing flowers in backyards, gardens and small and marginal farms. Now, the demand for cut flowers and other specialised floriculture products has begun to swell, thanks largely to the changing lifestyle and growing culture of "say it with flowers". This has given a fresh and a big impetus to flower production.
This bouquet culture requires production of flowers of very high quality, conforming to certain specific norms and standards, such as thorn-free with long stems, large number of blooms per stem, uniform shape and size, and the like. This requires scientific cultivation and careful post-harvest handling of flowers.
Public sector research on floriculture has so far been scattered over a large number of agricultural research institutes and farm universities, each pursuing its own path. Though the all-India coordinated research project on floriculture, under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), had sought to integrate these diversified research efforts to some extent, yet this was insufficient.
There was a need for concentrated focus on floriculture research at a single centre. This need has now been fulfilled by upgrading the coordinated project into a full-fledged Directorate of Floriculture Research at the New Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), or Pusa Institute.
According to IARI director HS Gupta, the floriculture directorate has been located at this institute because the necessary infrastructure, including the much-needed poly houses for protected cultivation, already exists here. Besides, this institute has expertise in various disciplines of agricultural sciences which will be available to the new directorate for providing inter-disciplinary support to its research efforts.
Gupta feels that the country has tremendous floriculture production potential, thanks to varied agro-climatic conditions in different regions which enable cultivation of almost all kinds of flowers. But the kind of cut flowers that are in demand in the fast-growing domestic and international markets require protected cultivation which, at present, is limited to just a fraction of the total area under floriculture. Besides, new technology is also needed to produce such flowers.
Much of the domestic and export demand is for roses and gladioli though several others like chrysanthemum, carnation, gerbera, anthurium, lily and orchids are also quite popular. However, the seeds and planting materials for many of these flowers need to be imported to grow the kind of cut flowers that the buyers demand. The newly carved floriculture directorate will, hopefully, work for reducing this import dependence.
There is also a need to encourage protected cultivation of flowers under poly houses and greenhouses, especially for the niche domestic market and exports. Such cultivation ensures better quality of the produce. That apart, it allows adjusting flower maturity to the periods of peak demand, such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Diwali and other specific occasions. Moreover, it guards the plants against pests and diseases and allows most efficient use of nutrients and water.
At present, there are only 100-odd export-oriented floriculture units growing flowers under controlled conditions. Most of the produce, over 95 per cent, still comes from the open fields.
According to the industry estimates, the total flower production in 2007-08 was over 870,000 tonnes of loose flowers and over 43,417 million (numbers) of cut flowers. The area under flowers was estimated at about 160,000 hectares. However, the production is concentrated largely in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
One of the major constraints faced by flower producers is the lack of proper marketing facilities. Even in a city like Delhi, the wholesale flower market has been operating from the pavement of a busy road. Specialised transportation and storage facilities that these highly perishable and sensitive products need are missing.
It is only recently that modern flower auction houses have been planned for metropolitan cities which account for most of the consumption of flowers. But more needs to be done on this front.