Baburao Lahane, 40, of Pochade village in Thane district, no longer worries about the chill or intermittent rains. The sale of jasmine (mogra) flowers is consistent through the year and fetches him Rs 1.8 lakh. He has 800 trees flowering on 30 guntas of his 2.5-acre plot and wants to plant more.
Lahane was among 11 tribal families who had offered to undertake cultivation in 2005 when Pune-based BAIF Development Research Foundation, a voluntary organisation set up by Mahatma Gandhi disciple Dr Manibhai Desai in 1967 to promote sustainable livelihood in rural India, introduced low-cost floriculture in wadi plots in Thane. BAIF’s associate organisation MITTRA ( Maharashtra Institute of Technology Transfer for Rural Areas) selected farmers who had enough sources of water.
Farmers in Vikramgadh had never undertaken floriculture as a traditional activity, says Sudhir Wagle, additional chief programme coordinator, BAIF, Nashik. There was therefore reluctance, before the economic returns were explained at meetings, Wagle says.
Families were provided planting material, fertilisers and insecticides. Each selected family planted 200 plants of jasmine on 500 sq metres at an investment of Rs 2,500. The first harvest went on sale in six months and fetched the families net returns between Rs 21,000 and Rs 25,320, says G G Sohani, president, BAIF. Today over 500 tribal families are now engaged in floriculture and around 79 million tonnes jasmine worth Rs 1.31 crore have been sold in the Dadar market since 2007, Sohani adds.
The initiative has also bagged awards, a recent one at the second Bihar Innovation Forum supported by the World Bank and implemented by Bihar Rural Livelihood Promotion Society.
The floriculture and wadi project has helped bring down the rate of migration, says Sohani. Most of the seven tehsils of Thane district have a predominantly tribal population, who are dependent on subsistence agriculture. Crops can be grown only during the kharif season. During the off-season, the tribals used to migrate to towns and cities in search of wage labour.
Says Sunil Kamdi, 33, of Dengahimet village, “Now I earn Rs 12,000 every month. Earlier I had to travel at least 50 km to work as a labourer and then return home late at night. Now I have planted 317 jasmine trees,” says Kamdi.
Sohani concedes that small farmers in remote areas cannot get high prices for jasmine flowers as these have to be delivered fresh every morning at wholesale markets in cities. The logistics and cost of transportation are considerable; most wadi plot-owners in Thane live in villages that do not have a direct bus or train connection to Mumbai or Nashik, the nearest cities, Initially, farmers and cooperatives tried selling flowers in Nashik, but realising that the best returns can be got from the Mumbai market, a process was set up for daily delivery of flowers from interior regions of Thane district to the metropolis.
The flower growers set up Vrindavan Pushpa Utpadak Sangh, an informal organisation. Collective marketing of flowers in Dadar market (160 km away) was initiated during September 2007. The flowers are harvested from about 5 to 7 am, Lahane says, then taken to collection centres in the village. The accumulated produce from various villages is transported to Dadar.
“My jasmine flower trees have ensured that I have a fixed salary every month. What else do I need?” says Lahane.