The fragrance has evaporated from the lives of flower growers in Punjab as they count their losses. With state government enforcing a curfew and the Centre implementing a 21-day national lockdown, their produce is now wilting and rotting in the fields, with people not ready to take them even for free. Temples are closed, gurdwaras not fully functional and extravagant Punjabi weddings are on hold, due to which flower sales have hit rock bottom.
The flower farmers have now started ploughing their fields, without harvesting the crop. There isn’t any other option left, they say.
“It pains a lot to crush the petals under the wheels of the tractor but is there any other option left? There is no one to buy flowers now. (With devotees not visiting) temples and gurdwaras don’t need flowers. No weddings are taking place. We had high hopes from Navratra season and that too has been washed away,” says Balbir Singh, from village Kot Khalsa of Amritsar who ploughed his marigold and jafri field on 1.5 acres.
“There are no buyers so there is no use plucking them,” he adds. The fate of his roses, gultak and gladiolus on other 1.5 acre remains undecided. “They too will go in trash, I know. Recent hailstorm coupled with coronavirus outbreak and curfew has led to my losses in lakhs,” he says.
The financial loss to flower farmers is bound to hit the crop diversification process in state, which is working on weaning away its farmers from the wheat-paddy cycle. In Punjab, flowers are grown on 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres). The government has not yet intervened or chalked out any plans for flower growers as it has done for wheat, sugarcane and vegetable farmers. The farmers who had adopted floriculture, leaving wheat-paddy cycle, now stand discouraged.
Gurpreet Singh Shergill (49), from village Majhal Khurd of Patiala, says, “I own a 12-acre flower farm where I had grown gladiolus, marigold, statice, matthiola and snapdragons. Plucking had been going on when lockdown was announced. I had to plough 3 acres of marigold and gladiolus because there were no buyers.”
Shergill, however, adds that the problem is acute for small farmers who had started growing flowers on 1-2 acres and now their entire crop has been wasted. “Who will compensate them? Government asks farmers to opt for diversification. But whenever flower growers are in crisis, no one helps”.
Gurvinder Singh (40), from village Nanowal Khurd of Fatehgarh Sahib and president of PAU Flower Growers Association, said that he has incurred loss of at least Rs 9-10 lakh. “I have already ploughed 5 acres of marigold and gladiolus. Flowers such as petunia and nasturtium in another 15 acres can be used for making seeds,” he said, adding that he will still be able to make some money.
Of his 2.75-acre field in village Panjeta of Ludhiana, Lakhwinder Singh Grewal has ploughed marigolds on 0.75 acre. He has gladiolus in the remaining area that he is planning to use as seed. “Gladiolus sticks will go in trash but the seeds can be used. We expected a good sale in Navratra season, but instead suffered a loss of Rs 1.5 to 2 lakh. Vegetables and fruits are at least selling but where do the flower farmers go. Government should tell us why should we grow flowers again? Will they help us,” he asks.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Shailender Kaur, director horticulture, Punjab, said that since flowers aren’t ‘edible or an essential commodity’, government can’t do much. “Look at Holland, they are the biggest flower producers but still suffering losses due to coronavirus. Right now priority is to provide food to people for survival,” she said.
“However, we are still trying to get some shops opened in Patiala as flowers are mostly grown in Patiala, Fatehgarh Sahib and Amritsar districts. Of some 2,000 hectares in Punjab under floriculture, the April harvest of lilies, marigold and gerbera is pending from 294 hectares only. It is fag-end harvest and most farmers had already harvested the flowers before lockdown. Export orders are completed,” she said.
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