Bleak monsoon hurts floriculture in West Bengal

Farmers struggle to store flowers, increase production and end up with low payouts

By Sudarshana Chakraborty
Last Updated: Tuesday 13 August 2019
Floriculture is one of the biggest industries and agricultural segments in West Bengal. Photo: Sudarshana Chakraborty
Floriculture is one of the biggest industries and agricultural segments in West Bengal. Photo: Sudarshana Chakraborty Floriculture is one of the biggest industries and agricultural segments in West Bengal. Photo: Sudarshana Chakraborty

While many states in the country are battling floods, West Bengal is facing a problem absolutely obverse: Insufficient rainfall has affected agriculture, especially flower production.

Everybody in the chain — be it growers, sellers or exporters — are facing losses as, according to the India Meteorological Department, the state experienced a rainfall deficit of 30 per cent between June 1 and August 12, 2019.

“Many of my flower-bearing plants have died. I am facing losses this monsoon owing to low production,” said Arun Nashkar, a farmer in Bhangar of South 24 Parganas district, who cultivates marigold and tuberose on his four-bigha holding.

Nashkar would produce 1,000 bundles of tuberose and 1,000 quintal of marigold during a normal monsoon. This year, by the second week of August, he managed only 500 bundles and two quintals respectively.

Floriculture is crucial for Bengal. The state has 29,000 hectares of land dedicated to flower farming, according to the data provided by West Bengal State Food Processing & Horticulture Development Corp Ltd. It produces around 77,246 metric tonne (MT) of loose flowers and 28,973 MT of cut flowers.

Is rain responsible?

While weather officials accept the state has received dismal rainfall, the corporation officials believe it could not have impacted floriculture. Flowers are cultivated in high lands and not much water is needed, said officials from the corporation. The predicted heavy rainfall will be good for flowers, they added.

The production of Marigold has increased in the last 20 years despite changing monsoon pattern in the state, said an official from the corporation.

This is when West Bengal is so far heading the list of big states suffering from scarcity of rainfall. Although North Bengal has had a sufficient share of monsoon, Gangetic south Bengal is under a deficit.

“Extreme weather conditions are a result of global warming. In today’s time of climate change we see the gap between two good rainfalls increase to 12-15 days from 8-10 days earlier. Also, we often get half a month’s rainfall in a day or two,” said GK Das, director, Regional Meteorological Centre (RMC), Kolkata.

Delayed monsoon and the lack of proper low-pressure formation in June and July led to the insufficient rainfall in South Bengal, he added. There are chances of a 100 per cent rainfall in the coming days, but it will not be uniform across the state, according to the RMC’s August-September bulletin.

The corporation officials believe the farmers’ experimenting ability is bettering the export business. Farmers are ready to take risks, considering the change in rainfall pattern as they are even producing Tuberose on the sides of paddy fields, said corporation officials. Many new flowers in demand overseas are being cultivated, they added.

Growing different flowers, however, can't plug losses. The flowers grown in the state may vary from marigold, tuberose, rose to hibiscus and twilight, but the problems remain — low production, flowers can’t be stored and, hence, have to be sold in wholesale markets on much less price, said farmers in South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Nadia and Howrah districts.

Losses at all levels

Most of the marigold farmers are selling the flowers for Rs 30-40 a kilogramme in wholesale market instead of Rs 80-90 per kg that they used to get so the flowers do not rot.

Laxman Sahu, a flower farmer from Panskura who sells Balsamina, has been facing losses for the past one month. He is forced to sell the flowers for Rs 10-15 per kg instead of the earlier cost of at least Rs 50 a kg.

Florists too feel that although the quality of flowers has not declined, the production level has. That’s why they have to pay more than the last season to acquire flowers. They often don’t get the flowers they order on time as farmers struggle to store them.

Nursery owners have a similar story. They say people are buying hibiscus mainly because it will survive in less water. Some of them have already incurred losses of Rs 80,000-90,000 in the last three months.

The complaints of small flower sellers are no different. They are paying high prices to keep their business floating as they too can’t store flowers due to the heat.

They feel the supply of marigold is suffering the most and that’s why they have to pay Rs 300-450 /20 pieces instead of the usual Rs 100-150 to procure the flowers. But since they are unable to raise the selling price in fear of losing daily customers, they are suffering huge losses.

Sushanta Dhara buys flowers from one wholesale market and sells them to another wholesale market in form of garlands or loose flowers. He buys tuberose for Rs 100 a kg and a garland costs him Rs 50 to make, but he ends up selling it for Rs 30. Last year, he used to get Rs 80-90 for it. 

Those selling loose flowers are also forced to pay at least 20 per cent more than last year.

“We all are waiting for a good rain. Rain is the life of flowers. It will help the farmers and all those selling flowers to make up for this year’s loss in some way,” said Sahanara Biwi, who sells garlands and loose flowers.

All flower farmers expect this August to bring more rainfall and help them increase production even if it raises the chances of damaging flowers. At least it will ensure a rise in market prices, said the farmers.

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