As demand for fresh flowers plummets amid the raging pandemic, farmers in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh say it is pointless irrigating their fields of chrysanthemums, marigolds and chamomile. They are leaving their flowers to shrivel and die.
COVID19 curbs have strangled any hopes of a recovery in the floriculture circles. Photo: By arrangement
When Neeraj Tripathi lovingly prepared cuttings from the chrysanthemums in November last year, and planted them for a new crop in January, he was a happy man. The flowers, he knew for a certainty, would bloom by January, in time for the wedding season.
True enough, his three acres of leased land in Bagaha village of Satna district in Madhya Pradesh, was a riot of perfect flowers, just like he had planned. But Tripathi, a Masters in horticulture, never imagined the coronavirus would make a major comeback as the second wave of the pandemic and unleash mayhem in the country by turning more virulent and more ruthless than ever.
“I am ruined, I am in dire straits. There were no marriages in January, February or March this year,” lamented the 39-year-old farmer who had to sell off his harvest of chrysanthemums for as little as Rs 40 a kilogrammes (kg). In normal times, the price is Rs 250 a kg.
Tripathi was forced to let some of the flowers die in the field as there were no takers for them. Still, he consoled himself that things would look up in time for the April/May wedding season when his next harvest of flowers would be ready. They were in full bloom by mid April, but the COVID 19 cases became even more relentless. “I am going to plough my beautiful flowers down,” Tripathi said.
India is facing a massive second wave of the COVID19 pandemic with 323,144 new cases yesterday, April 26. The country has already broken the record of being the topmost country reporting the highest daily COVID19 cases. State after state is announcing COVID-19 restrictions, curfews and lockdowns.
The increasing number of cases of coronavirus in Madhya Pradesh has resulted in a lockdown till April 30 which could be extended further. This has strangled any hopes of a recovery in the floriculture circles.
The flower business is planned so that the flowers are ready by the time of Navratri in March-April and thereafter, in the wedding season. Besides, there is a demand for flowers in temples and other events and functions all through the year.
“There is little hope now. With only fifty people allowed at a wedding, no one is spending money on flower decorations, not even to decorate the stage for jayamala [garland exchange] ceremony,” Tripathi said.
He had taken a loan to cultivate the flowers but now feels it is pointless spending any more money trying to protect the flowers. “My fields hold flowers worth eleven lakh rupees. High summer is upon us, and the heat is scorching those flowers. But I don’t see the point of wasting more money on irrigating them,” he said dejectedly.
Tripathi had ordered one lakh plants from Kolkata, West Bengal, for Rs 2.80 each. “I spent approximately three lakh rupees on the purchase. Since I don’t own any land, I leased it for five years,” he said. The annual rent he pays for the three acres of land is Rs 36,000. He spent a lakh to instal a tubewell, another lakh to fence off the field, Rs 60,000 as labour wages, Rs 35,000 to instal sprinklers for irrigation, Rs 25,000 as electricity charges for three months and Rs 25,000 for fertilisers and pesticides.
About 445 kilometres away from Satna where Tripathi farmed flowers, in the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, beautiful marigolds have only brought tears to 31-year-old Ravi Pal of Padmapur Chhibakariya in Mainpuri district. Pal quit his job four years ago to grow marigolds and so well was he doing that others in his district followed suit. Nearly 250 to 300 bighas (about 154 to 185 acres) of land are under marigold cultivation.
But COVID-19 struck last year and Pal suffered huge losses. He thought he would catch a break this year, instead, things went from bad to worse.
“This season has so far been an absolute disaster. The flowers that should be selling for thirty to forty rupees a kilo have plummeted to fifteen or twenty rupees a kilo. The exact same thing happened last year,” Pal told Gaon Connection. No one was willing to spend money on flowers in the pandemic, he rued.
“I cultivated marigolds on eleven bighas of land and chamomile in five bighas. And each bigha costs me three to four thousand rupees,” Pal pointed out. He added that the rate the flowers were selling for would not even cover the cost of his labour charges. “I have never imagined such a crisis would be upon us but it did, in the last ten to fifteen days,” he said. Pal sells the flowers in mandis in Kanpur, Farrukhabad and Agra. But, he said the flower business was doing badly everywhere.
Meanwhile, the pretty white and yellow chamomile flowers on Pal’s land are wilting. But, he won’t give them water. “I will plough them over once they dry out totally,” he said.