Owing to high input costs and lack of access to schemes, the future for rose farmers seems bleak.
If you travel to Anekal, 40 km from Bengaluru city, you begin to notice its floricultural settings. The minute you reach Chandapura or Jigani, depending on the route you take, you begin seeing flower carts selling heaps of roses and marigolds, and mini trucks transporting bags of these flowers. While the presence of roses isn’t as mammoth as in KR Market, it is evident enough for the average observer that they are important to this taluk. Bengaluru city has been known for its gardens and IT sector. However, it is perhaps only now being known as the nation’s rose basket as well. And Anekal is one of those places that contribute to its title.
About 10 km from the centre of Anekal taluk lies Venkatesh’s rose farm. His house is opposite his farm, separated just by the road. Growing the ‘Dutch’ variety of cut roses, Venkatesh grows his crop in a green house, spanning across a land of just about ¾ acres. Although our expectations of roses is seeing them in full blooms, carrying a sweet scent across, his farm seemed nothing liked that. His white and red rose buds were covered in small white polyethylene caps. “Roses tend to spread their petals out when blooming. But my buyers won’t take them like that….they need the roses to have the elongated tight shaped buds. So we have to put these caps on so that they grow like that,” says Venkatesh.
A cash crop, and a prime export product, cut roses form a significant part of the floriculture industry. Bengaluru, due to its favourable climate and elevated land forms the perfect place to grow the crop. However, the ever increasing city limits, causing water shortage, has created issues for this water-intensive plant. Additionally, the labourers are mostly migrants, who, in the wake of the pandemic, have also reduced in number. Both the factors have led to a shortage in production of cut roses and a fall in supply, causing a price surge. The pandemic has also cut short the export of the roses, leading to a fall in revenue of the rose cultivators.
However, more recently, farmers have been abandoning growing roses, switching to more commonly demanded flowers like Gerbera (daisies) or marigolds. Increased input costs and associated market issues have been prompting them to abandon the king of flowers altogether.
The Expensive Input Costs
Venkatesh is one of the few farmers in that area growing the export quality Dutch roses. “I used to grow vegetables before but I switched to growing roses about fifteen years ago…the income from the flowers were more stable than the vegetables. Although roses themselves have become harder to manage now…it is getting expensive by the day to continue growing them,” he continues. Venkatesh, it is to be noted, is one among the better of the lot in Anekal. His farm has a well settled irrigation system, with a well maintained green house and labourers, all in place to ensure his produce is consistent and healthy enough to yield good returns. But he says that his comfortable position as a rose farmer is getting harder to sustain: “I spend atleast ₹50,000 every month on medicines (pesticides) alone. And then I have the added expense of irrigation and paying off my labourers. I spend close to a ₹1 lakh every month just to maintain my plants, irrespective of whether they get sold or not.”
G Venkatesh is another rose farmer about five kilometers from the greenhouse. Though he has a similar name, his story is rather different. With an open field of small cut roses, he cultivates his land along with his wife Rachana. They have been growing roses for the last three to four years, having shifted from capsicum, for the same reasons as others; the lack of stable income. But their woes have remained the same despite making the switch since roses have proved rather costly to maintain for them too.
Rachana too echoes the sentiments of having to pour more money than they get back: “We use our savings to bear the cost of growing the plants atleast four times a year now….that is how difficult things are getting. If it is an in-demand season, we might get some money back, else mostly, it isn’t enough.” Her husband estimates their investment to be atleast 4 lakh per month, inclusive of the pesticide (to prevent insects and any diseases the plant may suffer) and the extra labourers they employ when the flower yields are more than they can personally handle.
The Added Water Shortage
A noticeable part of Anekal is its almost dry land, with little vegetation apart from the farms. Added to this is its well-known issue of water shortage. Venkatesh has set up his greenhouse with a drip irrigation system, which keeps his plants well hydrated. He is well situated than his neighbours he says. “I personally don’t have any water shortage. But I have seen my peers around the town going through it. If people have the money for it, they dig bore wells or dig up reservoirs to store the water…but it costs around five or six lakhs rupees to do that.”
Rachana shows the reservoir they have dug up outside their house. “We used to dig bore wells before, but after a point we stopped getting water from it. So now get in a tanker every other day. It costs around ₹1200-₹2000 every time we call for one, but we don’t really have a choice. Her husband explains the severity of the water shortage: “It isn’t just about the summer season…we don’t get water almost all year around. And for the past 10 years this shortage has been extensive. We used to get water when we dug up bore wells of just 300 feet about fifteen years ago. But now there is no guarantee of getting any water even we dig till 1200 feet. So the tanker becomes a must for or farms to survive.”
He explains the source of the problem: the drying up of the lake called ‘Dodda kere.’ “If that one lake gets filled, there are fifteen other ponds here that will also fill up which we could use. But that isn’t happening, making us spend more and more just to water our plants. A farmer is such that he can’t abandon his profession…he has to continue it. But it is getting difficult by the day to do so,” he adds.
The Fluctuating Market
Venkatesh sells all his flowers to his one buyer, who exports it further on his behalf. Since his roses are the export kind, they are priced per individual stems. In the off-season he fetches ₹4-5 per stem while during Valentine’s day, he gets around ₹20 per stem. “I would get more if I sold locally, but people around here don’t really buy these long stemmed roses. The festivals and events aren’t of much to use to us. So my roses can only get exported.”
When asked if there is a possibility to fetch a better price, he mentions the state government’s auction site in Hebbal Market. “I could get better prices, yes, but then these places are open only to big farmers who have twenty acres of land such. So they take flowers only in large quantities. So I can’t go sell there. I have to stick to my one buyer.”
On the other side, Rachana’s cut roses are sold at the local market alone. But the local market prices are extremely fluctuating, with little stability. These roses are sold in kilograms, fetching ₹50/kg in off season, and rising up to ₹100 during festivals. However, much like Venkatesh, she is forced to sell it to mandis. “If I sell it directly in the market, I’ll get better prices. But I can’t sell more than 20 kgs at once. So I have to give my bulk produce to the mandi.” Her husband adds, “Flowers are the only ones with no minimum support price from the government. So the market controls everything.”
The Resulting Problem
In Anekal, the challenges in growing roses has resulted in farmers shifting to other flowers like gerbera (daisies). “We used to have atleast 20 greenhouses of roses around here,” says Venkatesh, “but now, including me, it is down to about just two. People have shifted to growing gerbera or marigolds more since it is less difficult.”
G Venkatesh has reduced the share of roses in his field since the pandemic hit. “I was barely able to manage growing the roses alone till then. But the pandemic really hit me. Half my land has marigolds now…it takes a lot less effort and money to grow them. All I have to do is plant them and water them every other day…they don’t require much attention as the roses,” he said.
There are specific problems when it is regarding cut roses. Girish Muchal, general secretary of the Karnataka Small Flower Growers Association explains that the very nature of the rose flower poses extra challenges to the farmer. “The closed petals of the roses hide insects inside them, making it difficult for the pesticides sprayed to reach them. In such a case, it is a time and labour consuming process to manually look into the buds to ensure they don’t catch any disease…and this is just one of the many problems,” he explains.
Confirming the trend of farmers shifting to other flowers, Muchal further elaborates on the ease of growing other flowers for the farmers: “Roses, whether bred for the local or the export market, they need cold storage. Flowers like gerbera or chrysanthemum don’t need that. And to set up such a facility it costs anywhere between 10 to 30 lakh rupees. And the process to avail subsidy for it requires farmers to meet certain quality standards which is often hard for small scale farmers to do to…they lack the technical know-how.”
According to the Market Intelligence Report by Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), Karnataka is the second largest producer of cut roses in the country, just after West Bengal. Additionally, as per the 2019-20 statistical report by the Karnataka State’s Horticulture department, cut rose production is at its highest in Bengaluru Urban and Rural. 2,176 Hectares of area is under production for roses in both these areas, producing 12,566 metric tons of roses.
Of this, Anekal is responsible for approximately half the produce, with 7996 metric tonnes grown across 961 hectares of land. The yield from this taluk alone is valued at ₹1759 lakh. The district next in production is Chhikkaballapura, with 1101 hectares of production, producing 3164 metric tons of roses.
District-wise production of roses in Karnataka (in tonnes)
Dr. Gajanana TM, principal scientist at ICAR-Indian Institute of Horticulture Research, in his studies said that roses contribute to 70 per cent of the total cut flower industry, with the local produce being an important raw material for essences, perfumes and confectionaries. Additionally, of all the flowers produced in the country, cut roses have the most amount of export potential, with more than 80 per cent of the produced cut roses being exported. However, compared to 2016, the share of rose exports have fallen from 88 per cent to 82 per cent in 2021. This comes when the share of exports of Indian cut roses is already miniscule in the global market, standing at 0.6 per cent. “The king of flowers has a good potential to bring in good things for those who cultivate it, but the challenges seem to make it impossible to do so,” adds Muchal.
The pervasive negative sentiment across farmers and associations stems from a dire need of appropriate policies and red-tape free system of availing their benefits.
Keshav Murthy, Senior Assistant Director of Horticulture of Anekal, under the Horticulture Department of Karnataka enumerates some of the schemes that are available for the rose farmers. “For the open field farmers, there is an ‘area expansion scheme’ available, which is a subsidy of about ₹70 per square meter. For the poly-house farmers, there is a 50 per cent subsidy available, which comes around ₹395 per square meter. Besides this, they get benefits under MGNREGA, to provide labour support. Additionally, for the poly-house farmers, the ‘Krishi Honda’ program exists to provide a subsidy on constructing the water compounds for the farmers. That is a subsidy of almost ₹75000”
However, Muchal contests the efficiency of the policies. “Oh we know that the policies exist, but it is difficult to avail them. For example, the Krishi Honda program only provides the support for the material used to line the water compound, that too, if it meets certain standards. In most cases however, one has to give atleast 10-20 per cent bribe to the contractors to get the subsidy itself. So what does the farmer do? They buy cheaper quality materials on their own, which doesn’t last even for a year. And the cycle keeps going on,” he said.
G Venkatesh points to his water compound, saying that he spent around ₹5 lakhs to construct it. “There are no subsidies available to open field farmers and I don’t have enough seed money to construct a greenhouse. And with all the thousand documents that government keeps asking, I find it very difficult to go and get whatever little benefits might be there. I’ll lose a day’s work if I keep running between offices,” he said.
Talking about solutions for the water shortage issue, Murthy said, “Poly-house farmers don’t really have any issue…the water collected from the rainfall in the compounds usually suffice them for atleast 180-190 days. But the open field farmers do…but there is little to do about that. It depends from farmer to farmer how they manage their field.”
Dr. Gajanana explained that for most of these issues, collective bargaining may be the best way out of the vortex: “Red tape or nepotism is very difficult to deal with. However, if the flower growers form a group like flower growers association, farmer producer organisation (FPO), there is a possibility of these farmers asserting their right to subsidies which may not be possible at individual level.”
Responding to the query on if creating markets would help in price volatility, he expressed that alone wouldn’t solve the problems for the farmers. Creating a nearby market may, at best, provide an outlet for disposing of their flowers. However he thinks it may not ensure remunerative or stable price to the flower growers.
“Instead, the flower growers may be encouraged to make use of the available avenues such as selling in International Flower Auction, Bengaluru (IFAB), or Chandrabhavan flower market. However, there is a need to address the logistics problems like storage, refrigerated transport, loading and unloading as the flowers are perishable,” he added.
Dr Gajanana named organisations such as the South Indian Floriculture Association which is formed mainly by the cut rose growers and supply to IFAB. These associations gain the advantage of collective bargaining to assert their right to earn rightful prices. “But they aren’t accessible or the spaces like Chandrabhavan market aren’t large enough to enable large scale transactions and hence, there is a need to put pressure on the Government of Karnataka to expand the space or relocate the market to benefit the flower growers.”
Flowers aren’t categorized as an essential commodity, leaving the farmers vulnerable since their produce gets hit as a result of any general fall in demand. The pandemic even saw scores of rose farmers dumping their harvest on the streets due to lack of demand and avenues to get any bare minimum earnings from the flowers. In such a situation, government schemes and their accessibility indeed hold the key to most of the farmers’ problems in Anekal. But with farmers like Venkatesh who are weary of inefficient government support, it is but a waiting game to see when the vicious cycle of distrust and unmet promises would end.