July 2, 2004
Virtually no auspicious occasion in Indian homes goes ungraced by marigolds. And now, the humble orange flower is rapidly becoming the mainstay of small and marginal farmers in Himachal Pradesh.
Easy and inexpensive to grow, cheaply packaged and transported, long-lasting and high-demand, marigolds are the smaller farmers’ answer to established floriculturists who grow high-value flowers like carnations, gladioli and tulips.
‘‘Marigolds offer farmers a prospect of diversification,’’ says Dr S S Negi, vice-chancellor of the Dr Y S Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni. University scientists have promoted commercial cultivation of certain marigold varieties in the state since the mid-’90s.
The reasons are not too far to seek. For one, the crop requires little by way of input, and grows through the year in the low and mid-hill zones of the state. The shape and size of the Himachal marigold varieties, too, find favour with buyers — largely, wholesale markets and shops near religious sites — to whom the produce can be transported in gunny bags.
About a decade ago, scientists recommended Pussa Narangi and Pussa Basanti — variants of the African marigold — and SM 786 variety of the French marigold for commercial cultivation to thwart pest attack and insecticide-use. So widely has the flower caught on, the horticultural research station at Jachh, Kullu, alone supplied 200,000 marigold seedlings to farmers in the last year.
‘‘Marigolds are the most worry-free crop when it comes to unpredictables like inadequate rainfall or plant disease,’’ says O P Panwar, president of the Himachal Kisan Vikas Sangathan. ‘‘The crop requires very little irrigation, which is a major plus.’’
At the moment, Sirmour, Solan, Kangra, Una, Hamirpur and Shimla districts are the major cultivators of marigold. ‘‘At places where the summer is relatively mild and winter is not too severe, marigolds grow round the year. The plains can produce it only for a limited period in the winter,’’ said Panwar.
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