14 July:The North East is very rich in horticulture and floriculture. There is also a rich variety of medicinal plants which are grown here. The strategy for agriculture which envisions a shift in farming from subsistence to cash-crop farming will lead to the expansion of what is now a nascent horticulture sector.
Since farmers are naturally risk-averse, effecting changes in their cropping patterns will not be easy, unless gains from doing so are clearly demonstrated. With funds from the Central Government Horticulture Mission, States like Mizoram, Sikkim and Meghalaya have established Centres of Excellence in Horticulture which have started spreading the idea of fruit and vegetable cultivation among farmers successfully.
A Case Study from Meghalaya
In Mizoram and Meghalaya, these centres act as an interface between the private buyer of flowers, Zopar, and the farmer. The Centre for Excellence in the Shillong district of Meghalaya is looking at the whole gamut of production of flowers (anthurium), fruits (strawberries) and vegetables (example, cucumbers). The first step is to provide seeds (or flower pods) to farmers. In the case of anthurium the range of operations performed by the centre is enormous. First, Zopar provides flower pods obtained from Holland to farmers.
This is to avoid problems of patent violation and also because the Dutch plants are more resistant to pests. Local varieties are also developed for the national market. Second, special fabricated greenhouses are set up with drip irrigation facilities to allow the plant (roses, anthurium etc.) to grow to sizes ready for cutting. The cut flowers are then taken to the plant for pruning and precision stem cutting for export. The stems are kept in a cold storage till they are packed for export. The stems have to reach the buyer in 24 hours to retain any value. North Eastern India was put on the global map of flower exports when the first consignment of the exotic cut flower anthurium from the region was exported to Dubai.
The cultivation of anthurium is taken up by farmers in Mizoram’s capital Aizawl and in the East Garo Hills of Meghalaya. The plants are being grown along hill slopes under shade-houses with the latest Dutch varieties and modern irrigation systems, including fertigation. The first flowers were harvested in September 2003 and export to other States was started by October 2003, only 11 months from the date of planting. Both the department and the growers have realized that anthurium cultivation is going to be remunerative. Therefore, the cultivation of anthurium has been expanding every year. The number of growers increased from a mere 24 in 2002 to more than 200 in 2004
. The first shipment of 1,000 cut flowers from Mizoram and Meghalaya was exported by the Bangalore-based ZOPAR Exports Private Limited to Al Lokrit, Dubai, one of the biggest wholesalers in West Asia. Emirates Air flew the consignment from Kolkata to Dubai. Zopar not only guarantees buy back but also helps in quality control at the Centre. The controlled production at the centre also allows the economics of floriculture to be demonstrated to the farmers. The Agricultural Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has provided subsidy for carting the consignment from the farm to the airport for export, apart from the other general incentives on international freight.
In the coming times, both Mizoram and Meghalaya are likely to export other floriculture products, including roses, leather leaf fern, lilium, bird of paradise etc. which are being cultivated in the North Eastern Region due to favourable climatic, soil and water conditions. And despite the locations being in remote areas of Aizawl and Williamnagar, farmers have been able to grasp and adopt the latest technology and produce international quality anthurium. Looking at the demand for anthurium within and outside the country, there is good market scope for anthurium flowers. Further, the market is expanding. There is excellent scope for export to Japan, West Asia, Singapore and EU countries.
In realizing this Zo anthurium Grower Society Ltd. targeted and projected that the present production would be increased to 10 fold by the end of 2006. Anthurium will be one of the major sources of State income in the near future. However, this would be highly dependent upon necessary infrastructure being available to the growers. While acting as a demonstration for farmers, the centre also takes plants, vegetables and fruits (strawberries) from the farmers and undertakes quality control and their export for them. Zopar also buys directly from the farmers but the center monitors the pricing of products to make sure that the farmers get their due.
This is done by monitoring on the Internet the final prices of the relevant products purchased from the farmers. While floriculture seems to have its market mainly in the west, there are also sales in Guwahati, Kolkata and Delhi. In fact, the first sales are made in the domestic market unless a consignment is already committed to the export market. In the case of fruits and vegetables the domestic market is the main target. There is also some evidence that some farmers are switching from producing paddy to strawberries as basic terrace farming is quite conducive to growing this fruit. In the case of floriculture, the question that may be asked is: why are NER States a good choice since the original plant still comes from Holland? The advantage of the NER States seems to lie in their climate (this saves air conditioning costs in greenhouses) and land availability.