Young boys in tee shirts, shorts and chappals, their hands adorned with long floral garlands, are a sight one cannot miss on 31-km main road connecting Limkheda with Dahod. Their presence also marks the entry into Rozam, a village in Dahod district and taluka, where there are marigold fields of both sides of a hilly and nearly half of its residents are into flower cultivation.
Among them is Gesuben Parmar, who grows marigolds and roses on her barely one-acre undulating land that she has developed into a terrace farm. “My husband and I couldn’t study and nor could our son, as we were always on the move from one site to another. But now, my grandchildren are going to school,” says the 56-year-old, who is from the Pateliya adivasi community. Till five years back, she, along with her husband and son, were mostly working as migrant construction labourers in Rajkot, Vadodara and Surat. Now, they work in their own flower farm, which sustains them through the year.
Dahod district in east Gujarat, which borders Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh and Banswara in Rajasthan, has 74.3% Scheduled Tribes population as per the 2011 Census, the majority of them Bhils and Pateliyas.
At Kamboi, another small interior village in Dahod’s Limkheda taluka, Himsinh Parmar (48), shows off his less than one acre field blossoming with roses. He, too, not very long ago worked as a casual labourer in Gujarat’s cities for most part of the year and grew rainfed maize during the post-monsoon kharif season. “I started rose cultivation rose six years ago and harvest 20,000-30,000 pieces a month. In normal times, they fetch anywhere between 20 paise per rose, if I sell to wholesale flower vendors, and Rs 10 if it is to passerby customers on the main road. In festival time such as Navratri, Diwali and Ganesh Puja, the rates can go up to Rs 20-40. My current monthly income is Rs 1-1.5 lakh, more than 10 times what I used to get in the city. And I employ two labourers,” he claims.
Kamboi has 300 households, of which there are over 100 adivasi entrepreneur-farmers like Himsinh, who have switched from dryland crop agriculture to cultivating roses, marigolds and chrysanthemum. Floriculture has not only helped check distress migration work to cities, but also led to their grandchildren, if not children, becoming the first generation of school-goers in the family.
For Deepsinh Parmar, marigold farming has brought about nothing short of total transformation in the last five years. Not only has he enrolled his children for higher education, but even built a pucca house and bought a car to transport his and fellow farmers’ produce to the market. “Earlier, I could grow only enough crop to feed my family, but not to sell and generate income. I was forced, then, to migrate in search of work, but the meager earnings from daily wages wouldn’t have sufficed for my children’s education beyond Class X. Today, though, both my son and daughter are pursuing diploma in engineering and nursing, respectively,” states the 42-year-old.
All these farmers were introduced to floriculture through a Rs 30,000 subsidy from Gujarat’s horticulture department to cover the initial investment on field preparation, seedlings and planting. They also received training from officials of the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA) under the state agriculture department. Today, many of them have created nurseries of their own for supplying planting material to other farmers.
“Hilly geographical terrain, water scarcity and small landholdings are major issues that make regular crop agriculture risk-prone and also force farmers here to undertake seasonal migration. Most of them go to cities during the summer and winter months, and return to their villages ahead of the monsoon. Floriculture, unlike maize and other crops, requires less water and also yields produce round the year, helping farmers realise higher incomes,” notes N.V. Rathwa, deputy director of the ATMA at Dahod.
“For floriculture, water is needed mainly during the first two years of vegetative growth. Thereafter, water can be given at intervals of four days or even ten during winter. Many farmers, moreover, have gone in for drip irrigation, which brings down wasteful consumption and delivers water to the root zone where it is really needed. Also, floriculture yields crop on a daily basis and generates regular income similar to milk. This is unlike other crops, where farmers have to wait till the end of the season to market the produce. Selling on a daily basis enables farmers to earn more, while reducing yield and income uncertainties. The only thing about floriculture, just like milk, is that it requires more labour, which farmers here are anyway used to. And in this case, they are doing it in their own village than in the cities,” points out Himanshu Parekh, deputy director of the horticulture department in Dahod.
The area under flower cultivation in this predominantly adivasi district, having over 2 lakh hectares of cultivable land, has gone up from a mere 253 hectares in 2010-11, to 559 hectares in 2015-16 and 1,359 hectares in 2018-19.
In Vajelav village of Dahod’s Garbada taluka, an entire neighbourhood of 22 families has switched to floriculture. Vechat Kochar, who used to go every two months to Rajkot for work, has finally put down roots in his village.
“This area has no proper water source. We depend entirely on rainwater, but even it tends to run off, as our village is on a slope. There have been years when our land would remain barren throughout the year. But with floriculture, we have learnt how to use even this water through drip irrigation and storing in wells. We have also discovered that flower cultivation only requires paying more attention and it can fetch us much higher income than from working in cities” he sums up.