Sudha S. Namboothiry
Flowers speak millions of unspoken words. No wonder they are there on almost every occasion. From birth to death, in religious ceremonies, festivals, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, receptions, flowers are there to convey profound human feelings. Presenting a flower to anyone you love and the flower arrangements in most of the drawing rooms, offices, hotels and hospitals have become the style of the day in the fast-moving modern world where there is hardly any time for sweet nothings. Since time immemorial, the importance of such a delicate creation of Nature has always been appreciated.
Festivals in India are incomplete without flowers and this is the time when the florists have their field day. Onam, the most important festival of Kerala, is unthinkable without Pookalam, (exquisite floral arrangement on the floor). In the yesteryears, every house in Kerala had at least a little yard where jasmine, roses, hibiscus, marigold, chrysnath and ashoka were grown. There grew a lot of wild flowers on the fences and sidewalks. Kerala was dotted with water bodies full of water lilies and lotus. But today concrete has engulfed the natural beauty. So, just as every essential article from rice to sugar and consumer products from soap to electronic gadgets, Kerala gets its flowers from its neighbouring States. The situation has become so grim that if flowers from Tamil Nadu or Karnataka stop coming, no wedding or ‘pooja’ can take place in Kerala.
But Kerala has developed a new-found love for two groups of flowering plants-the orchid and the anthurium. Both produce exquisite and delicately hued flowers. Most of the orchids and anthuriums grow well in the tropical climate of Kerala. Above all, the cut flower culture of the modern age has created good market for the orchids and anthuriums as hotels and other commercial establishments prefer these flowers which are long- lasting compared roses, dahlias and gladiolas which stay only for a day in flower vases. Some progressive farmers are making a fortune out of flower cultivation in Kerala.
First it was an orchid boom in Kerala. Then it slowly gave way to anthurium. For, the customers found anthurium much more lasting– upto 20 days. So many small growers and even housewives are now diverting to anthurium culture with technical and financial assistance from the Centre and the State Government. Since 1992, the Tropical Botanical Garden Research Institution (TBGRI), Palode, Thiruvanathapuram, under different schemes partially funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, has trained over 1,500 individuals in Kerala in orchid and anthurium cultivation. Out of them 90 per cent were women. The Federation of Indian Floriculturists, the apex body promoting floriculture as agriculture activity in the country, trains and markets the flowers of the growers. Apart from these, krishi bhavans in every panchayat give subsidy for building net houses and various cooperative societies provide technical assistance and find out markets for the flowers. Financial assistance is available from most of the banks under the horticulture loan scheme. The krishi bhavans in some districts have launched the State government’s Flori Card Scheme which helps the cardholder to receive loans up to Rs. 25,000 from the State Bank of India.
At a time when the small farmers in Kerala find their investments in coconut and rubber non-profitable, investment in anthurium and orchids seems to be a better option. Today there are a number of big and small growers engaged in anthurium and orchid cultivation. They have formed societies for self-help in cultivation and marketing. One such society tucked away in the rural area of the Ernakulam district is anthurium cut flower society. It is the dream child of Jose Vallookaran and Saju T D of Karukutty village. Affected by unemployment, the duo wanted to try something different. In 1999, armed with 500 anthurium plants and a net house built with subsidy from krishi bhavan, their first anthurium nursery materialised in a 2.5 cent piece of land. The Command Area Development Authority (CADA) gave Rs. 10,000 worth anthurium plants to them. After eight months of waiting they began reaping 150 flowers every fortnight. Though the concept of using anthurium in flower arrangement was not new, sale of the flower became difficult. Hence, in August 2000 roping in other individual cultivators they formed a twelve-member society.
At present there are 150 members in the society, 100 of them women. The society helps in providing loans and subsidies from various banks, krishi bhavan and CADA for building green houses and setting up farms. In addition, the society supplies plants at a reduced rate, provides technical assistance, conducts classes, monitoring the farms till the plants start blossoming. And once the flowers are ready for harvest, the society purchases the flowers from the members, the price depending upon the size of the flower. In season (August-February), the cost of a 6-inch flower comes to about Rs.13. Much in demand are Cancan, Tropical, Honduras, Zenator and Mauritius Orange varieties. These collected flowers are then taken to private sellers who send them to cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore. The Society covers Ernakulam, Alleppey and Thrissur districts of Kerala and delivers about 1,500 flowers every week. They also help in selling the suckers. The society gives award to the best anthurium grower.
The Society is just one among the many scattered in the State doing its share of service. There are over 150 known varieties of anthurium. The investment comes around Rs. 5000 for a hundred plant and setting up the farm. In one year the earnings from hundred plants comes to about Rs. 12,000. It has been proved that one doesn’t have to be rich to undertake orchid and anthurium cultivation. By motivating rural women and youth in floriculture, the unemployment problem can be solved to a certain extent.The Pacific Ocean American island of Hawaii is exporting 2.5 million anthurium flowers every year to Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, Taiwan and the USA.
Anthurium, belonging to the family of Araceae and a native of Colombian forests, has come off with flying colours in the world of cut flower culture. In India, Kerala with its humid tropical climate has a promising future indeed in this field.