HAVING BARELY recovered from losses on account of a major pest attack early this year, mogra or jasmine growers of Palghar district are facing deep distress with all trade in flowers completely halted during the 21-day national lockdown to counter the spread of COVID-19. Flower sale has not been exempted from the restrictions imposed under the lockdown.
Across Jawhar, Vikramgad, Dahanu and Talasari, thousands of farmers, mostly tribals, have over the past decade diversified into growing the sweet-smelling mogra flower on small patches of land, often on no more than a third or half of an acre.
“Small and marginal farmers who grow mogra will face complete penury by the time the lockdown ends,” said Anil Valavi, a mogra cultivator from Walvanda village in Palghar’s Jawhar taluka who owns 2 acres of land and cultivates the flower on half an acre. “Many are entirely dependent on the fortnightly income from mogra and have no other alternative livelihood.”
Vegetable cultivation in Jawhar is minimal and there is no other crop during the dry season. Palghar’s jasmine production is among the highest in India.
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A plant that produces flowers all year round, it is in many ways an ideal crop for the region’s cultivators a shrub’s life is about 10 years, can be plucked on alternate days for all 12 months of the year, and it is well suited to Palghar’s climate, growing well even in Jawhar or Vikramgad’s low moisture areas. While villages along this belt have traditionally grown mogra, the number of cultivators has grown with better marketing and, in recent months, there has been an attempt to set up farmer producer companies (FPC). In March alone, in Jawhar and Mokhada, more than 300 farmers have received permissions to form these companies.
“Earlier, an agent from the major markets would visit the villages, and we would get Rs 100 per kg of flowers. Because we are now collecting and marketing our mogra directly at the Dadar flower market, we get Rs 500 to Rs 600 per kg on an average. During the peak season we may get even Rs 1,500 per kg,” said Valavi. During the festival season last year, mogra fetched Rs 3,500 per kg in Dadar.
Daily plucking averages more than a kilogram per jasmine farm and costs for plucking are low, especially as much of the labour is provided from the farmer’s home. But now, across the region, farmers have begun to prune their jasmine shrubs to save costs on fertiliser and upkeep.
Vinayak Deodhar, a chartered accountant in Mumbai who set up the Savali Trust in the region over a decade ago, says the villagers’ decision to market their produce directly made mogra a popular choice. Savali, which is currently setting up an FPC with over 140 mogra-growers as members, has organised a central collection and transportation of the flower to Dadar. “We are also planning a cold storage, but those plans are now delayed by the lockdown,” Deodhar told The Indian Express.
In some villages, one member of a group collects the day’s flowers in the wee hours and carries them on a motorcycle to Dadar market, to make it in time for the 6 am or 11 am slots when the prices of mogra are the highest.
Like other FPCs, Savali is also installing drip-irrigation systems for mogra cultivators. The district administration also provides assistance through various schemes for drip irrigation and saplings.
“It is a highly viable crop for us, but at this point, some of the poorest adivasi mogra growers are facing starvation in coming weeks,” said Valavi, adding that the crop also has no processing facilities whatsoever in the region. “The flower has a life of only 12 hours, but it can be dried and powdered for the incense and perfumery industries. But with no such option, we are farmers who have a plentiful crop but no sales and no money,” he said.
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