Chirag Patel’s rose farm in Kunjrao village in Anand district stands still. Unlike other years, there are no flower pickers rushing through the pathways for the daily harvest.
Around 400 farms in the village, spread over about 370 acres and growing Indian rose, lilies and marigold, also have a similar story to tell.
With a ban on public and religious events due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the farmers are staring at a bleak year ahead.
“Pruning flower farms takes a lot of labour and maintenance. There is no choice but to let it wilt on the plant itself. It will, of course, affect the health of the plant for some time. But we are helpless,” says Chirag.
Usually, the day’s harvest would be delivered straight to a traders in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and even within the district. Some farmers also participate in APMC markets auctions. ” April and May are wedding season, added by Ramzan which also sees a lot of flowers, especially roses, being offered at Islamic shrines. Our village is collectively facing a loss of up to Rs 4 lakh per month since the lockdown has been announced,” Chirag says.
About 60 kilometers away from Kunjrao, villagers of Rel in Tarapur Taluka of Anand, flower farmers have turned to supplying milk and some opted for MNREGA jobs.
“Most of us have bovines at home and we have turned to dairy unions to sell milk and earn some money to sustain ourselves. Some younger people have found MNREGA jobs like digging ponds and they get about Rs 300 per day. Usually, we make up to Rs 50,000 per day in the village –that is about Rs 2000-3000 per farmer on peak days,” says Ghanshyam Patel, a farmer.
While rose is the predominant yield — growing in about 25 acres of the 50-60 acres of flower farms here –other flowers include lilly, mogra and marigold. Patel, who has been growing country rose in his one-acre farm, says that most of the villagers have decided to feed the flowers to cattle.
“We have no other option but to cut the flowers and throw them away or feed cattle. We have not earned a single penny after the lockdown,” says Patel, adding that flowers from Rel mostly make their way to Ahmedabad and Khambat taluka in Anand district –both in complete lockdown.
Roses, farmers say, are sold for about Rs 50-100 per kg depending on their size, colours, formation and even scent, on regular days. During wedding seasons and festivals, it goes up to about Rs 500 per kg.
In Balasinor in Mahisagar district, which is home to the exotic bunch of Kashmiri roses –known for their long lasting freshness and scent — farmers are at a loss. Ketul Patel, who grows organic Kashmiri roses in about two acres through drip irrigation, says, “It is not just the physical shut down of the business but also the repercussions it will have in the long run.”
Ketul had handed over a whole bunch of harvest to the district administration for floral tributes to be paid to health workers.
“They had approached me to purchase the flowers for the event but I did not charge them as that was my gesture for those fighting this battle. We know it is a long road ahead but at the moment, many of us into floriculture, are looking at bleak prospects,” says Ketul.
In Dahod, farmers with small landholdings on hilly terrains had switched to floriculture to generate a profitable income and stop urban migration from their villages. “This was supposed to be a peak season for us but we have had zero business. I had also ordered for rose stems and a few other varieties for the new season thinking that the lockdown might end. But the order is now stuck” says Deepsinh Parmar, a farmer.
In Dahod, 1,359 hectares of land is under floriculture, officials say.
In Vadodara, flower farmers from around 11 villages in Karjan are left in a lurch with no takers in their usual markets of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and even Delhi. Farmer Kanchan Machhi says, “This was the season when I could sell the flowers at more than a double price. During the lean season I sell the flowers for Rs 40-50/ kg, but during wedding seasons which is ongoing and ramzaan, I could sell it for Rs 100-120/kg.”
Machhi’s family of 11 now survives on the income from selling milk from their cow.