There is still little sign of monsoon in this village of Osmanabad district in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, which seems headed for a second consecutive drought year.
But amidst this depressing sight of bright and blue skies at this time and vast stretches of land dotted with thorny bushes serving as fodder for goats and sheep, a handful of farmers still hold out hope. They have got together to cultivate gerbera, a flower plant popularly known as African daisy. For these farmers, it marks the beginning of an alternative to sugarcane cultivation requiring large quantities of water — a clearly unsustainable proposition today.
Farming of gerbera in Padoli is taking place in a controlled environment under polyhouses. There are at least 20 polyhouses that have propped up in this small village spread over 2,321 hectares with a population of 4,856 people. These are already bearing blooming flowers in hues of pink, red and yellow that are a visual delight in an otherwise dry land.
The Portuguese flower breeder Montiplanta, which has provided guidance and knowhow for gerbera cultivation through a tie-up with the state government, has been sufficiently impressed with the results on the fields. “They have even decided to call their next improved gerbera variety, Padoli,” claims a farmer.
Balaji Pawar is among the 12 next-generation farmers in Padoli who decided to embark on the “adventure” of switching from sugarcane and looking for cropping alternatives that, apart from giving better financial returns, are sustainable in a water-scarce region. “Our production cost is now working out to Rs 1.75 to Rs 2 per flower. On the other hand, we are selling at Rs 10 on an average, going up to even Rs 50 to Rs 150 per flow,” he says.
The farmers are selling their flowers under the banner of Lok Kalyan Group, a registered farmer producer organisation.
Last year, it sold around 1.5 lakh gerbera flowers, resulting in a profit of Rs 50 lakh for the 12 farmers.
“There is a good market for these flowers in Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Tamil Nadu. There is also demand from Mumbai and Nagpur, though not as much compared to the southern states,” observes Prabhusingh Shirale, who is also part of the group.
Gerbera is the world’s fifth most used cut flower after rose, carnations, chrysanthemum and tulips. The flowers, which are carefully plucked from the roots and packaged in cardboard boxes, can survive for anywhere from eight to 15 days.
“The maximum investment is in installing the polyhouse infrastructure. The agriculture and finance departments have arranged for low-interest loans that make these investments viable. With Rs 1 lakh investment, it is possible to generate up to Rs 10 lakh profit,” adds Shirale.
Besides, gerbera farming does not require massive water. What it needs is healthy soil with sustained moisture. A farm pond next to the biggest polyhouse in the village is serving as the primary water source for the cultivation of flowers by the group.