India’s small flower farms: a blooming industry

Backed by favourable geographical and socio-economic attributes, India has traditionally been one of the world’s most prominent flower production and marketing centres. With the global marketplace shrinking rapidly in 21st century, the relevance of India’s flower industry, formed majorly of small producers, has fast expanded

January 10, 2018

India, with support of encouraging regulatory and fiscal measures, has come up as the preferred sourcing destination for flowers and related products for global consumers

An increasing number of small landholding farmers, 85% of all landholding farmers in India, are turning to the high-margin occupation of growing high-quality flowers for global market

Around 22,020 tonnes of cut and loose flowers are exported annually from the sub-continent to more than 90 countries, including the UAE, Netherlands, the USA, the UK and Australia

Government has set up the International Flower Auction Bangalore (IFAB) - one of the three main flower auction centres in the world that offers live online auctioning of flowers

At 2.30 am on a typical day, flower markets across India are buzzing with activity. Flower growers from farms near major marketplaces bring in exotic buds and blooms, to be auctioned and transported across India as well as far corners of the globe. Backed by favourable geographical and socio-economic attributes, India has traditionally been one of the world’s most prominent flower production and marketing centres. With the global marketplace shrinking rapidly in 21st century, the relevance of India’s flower industry, formed majorly of small producers, has fast expanded.

The increasing international demand for flowers has drawn the attention of the Government of India with floriculture being deemed a sunrise industry. What’s more, the sector has been given 100 per cent export unit status along with tax exemptions to new Export Oriented Units (EOUs), tax holidays on income from floriculture as well as substantial duty exemptions for imports on cut flowers, flower seeds and tissue-cultured plants.

Small is suited for floriculture

As a ripple effect to the Government’s initiatives to promote floriculture, small agricultural land holders are now looking towards low-volume-high-value model to practice commercial floriculture. An increasing number of small land holding farmers are turning to the lucrative occupation of growing high quality flowers. India’s new seed policy for the import of seeds and planting material covering flowering plants, ornamental plants, tubers, bulbs of flowers, cuttings and saplings have made it feasible to import non-indigenous varieties, for propagation.

Of the 138.4 million land holdings recorded in the 2016 agricultural census, 85 per cent are less than two hectares each. Traditionally, these smallholdings have been used to grow seasonal food crops. With floriculture emerging as a more profitable option, farmers across the Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Odisha, Assam, Haryana, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are turning to cultivating flowers for commercial purposes. What’s encouraging growth in this sector even more is that commercially grown flowers are not location or soil dependent. They can be grown under simulated conditions, in greenhouses, at a moderate investment.

Early trend-spotters who realised the potential of the floriculture sector went so far as to invest in large tracts of land in Africa – Ethiopia and Kenya, to grow flowers for export. Karuruti Global and Neha International were the noteworthy pioneers who set up operations in the African nations. The African countries’ climatic condition has encouraged flower cultivation, while local geographical attributes has made the region an ideal base for export of these perishables to Europe and the Middle East.

Around 22,020 tonnes of cut and loose flowers are exported annually from the sub-continent to more than 90 countries, including the UAE, Netherlands, Germany, the USA, the UK and Australia

The India advantage

India, with its different climatic zones, already grows a wide variety of flowers, at different times of the year. Roses, gladiolus, gerbera, tuberose, anthurium, orchids, marigold, jasmine are the most commercially feasible, at present. Cut and loose flowers are sold in the domestic market as well as exported. Meanwhile, usage of flowers have grown steadily down the time, including festival consumption, decorative and gifting purposes, for extraction (to cater to the fragrance and dye industries as well as for the production of essences and flavours), for herbal and medicinal purposes, and as offerings on different occasions.

Around 22,020 tonnes of cut and loose flowers are exported annually from the sub-continent to more than 90 countries, including the UAE, Netherlands, Germany, the USA, the UK and Australia. Walk-in cold storages have been installed at the international airports in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram to support the process. Today, there are more than 300 flower export-oriented units in India, with more than 50% of these units are based across Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. In 2016-17, India’s total export of flower totaled around US$82 million.

With increasing technical collaborations from foreign companies, the Indian floriculture industry is poised to increase its share of the global supply chain. Established air, road and rail connectivity and an established business infrastructure make India an ideal destination for commercially growing flowers. India’s diverse agro-climatic areas and geographic locations lend themselves to growing different species of commercially viable flowers. Moderate rainfall, mild seasons, trained floricultural labour and central location with regards to trade routes give India unique advantages.

Push by the Government

The 100 per cent FDI sector has caught the attention of international partners who are looking at establishing joint ventures and bringing in modern technology, infrastructure and capital. Government subsidies are being offered on air-freight for export of cut-flowers and for establishing supply chain infrastructure such as cold storages, pre-cooling units, refrigerated vans, green houses and packaging material. Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) and National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) are the primary government stakeholders owning this.

The Government of India has fuelled further growth in this sector by identifying key agri-export zones, wherein larger farms are encouraged to share resources and facilities, so as to maximise benefits. Another interesting initiative aimed at completing the circle, from grower to seller is the Government setting up the International Flower Auction Bangalore (IFAB) – one of the three main flower auction centres in the world. A nodal body that operates on a public-private partnership model, IFAB facilitates live online auctioning of flowers. The two other centres are in the Netherlands and in Germany.

Floricultural land in India covers around 248,510 hectares and produces around 17 million tonnes of loose flowers and 472,000 tonnes of cut flowers. Karnataka lays claim to be the largest flower exporting state in the country, while Tamil Nadu is known to be the largest rose-growing state in India. The flower market in Kolkata is known to be the largest flower market in Asia. The point here being that India has always been and continues to be a fertile ground for flower growing and marketing. The nation is now set to make a mark, internationally.

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