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Flower power for Kashmiri youth

Floriculture is a profitable and vibrant industry in Kashmir (© FAO/Jon Spaull)
Floriculture is a profitable and vibrant industry in Kashmir
© FAO/Jon Spaull

The people of Kashmir, a region without industries and ravaged by two decades of armed conflict, have always preferred government jobs. The preference for government jobs in a conflict zone, where investing in businesses is never considered free of risk, is understandable but this preference has resulted in high unemployment. However, limited employment opportunities in the government sector are beginning to sway youth like Abdul Rashid Tantray towards self-employment.

According to 30-year-old Tantray, he first tried growing vegetables. "We had two acres of agricultural land for growing vegetables," says Tantray. "This did well, but not to our full satisfaction. Then we learnt that the government had launched a scheme for supporting unemployed youth to start floriculture projects." Convinced that floriculture was more profitable, Tantray registered for this scheme, which provides financial assistance of up to INR 26,000 (US$600) and imported seedlings and bulbs supplied free. Ever since, says Tantray, his family has been doing comparatively better.

A future for flowers

Mohammad Shehzad is another young flower grower who sees a good future for growing flowers. "Flowers are in huge demand. So it is all about working hard to grow flowers in good quantity," he says. While Dr. G S Naqash, director of Floriculture Kashmir, points out, "A floriculture nursery assures you maximum gains in the shortest possible time. If you sow the crop today, after four months it will give you the harvest in the form of bulb, seed or flower. It pays good dividends, giving an average farmer an additional income of around US$2,000 per season."

"Much to our delight, nature has bestowed on us good climatic conditions, due to which our flowers have the best colour, size and spread. And the spike-length, which is a requirement for commercial cut-flowers, is also pretty good," he adds. Alexander Mudragey of Wisdom Flowers Russia, who visited Kashmir last year, put the potential of floriculture in Kashmir at US$100 million, observing that, "Flowers from Kashmir are of better quality than other countries."

Entrepreneurial spirit

More and more youths want to be floriculturists (© Athar Parvaiz)
More and more youths want to be floriculturists
© Athar Parvaiz

Little wonder that more and more youths want to be floriculturists. An example is Nusrat Jahan, a 34-year old woman from a remote south-Kashmir hamlet who is considered to be the pioneer of the cut flower industry in Kashmir. A computer graduate, Jahan gave up her government job because she had the dream of becoming a successful businesswoman in the male-dominated society of Kashmir. "It was never a smooth run for me. I would take flowers on credit from the farmers and would pay them later when I was paid by my customers in Delhi. Those were days of utter frustration and hard work," says Jahan, who started her venture without any help from the government.

Now, Jahan is recognised as the most successful woman entrepreneur in the Kashmir Valley with her business touching an annual turnover of half a million US dollars. She owns the state franchise of Ferns N Petals (FNP) - India's largest chain of fresh flower stores. Employing around 20 people, she has three flower farms and is now planning to export flowers to international markets such as the Gulf. Little wonder that Jahan is a role model for hundreds of Kashmiri women who want to make their mark.

A blooming sector…

According to Naqash, floriculture has "proved to be a vibrant sector for direct and indirect employment generation." He continues: "Despite the fact that we are just beginners in floriculture, we have more than 700 educated unemployed youth, both men and women, registered as flower growers with us. They are hard-working and doing their best."

Kashmir earns around US$6 million annually from floriculture (© FAO/Jon Spaull)
Kashmir earns around US$6 million annually from floriculture
© FAO/Jon Spaull

Registration with his department entitles the members for benefits of schemes like the National Policy for Development of Farmers (or RKVY) and Technology Mission (TM). "The major crops we are growing are cut flowers like carnations, lillies, gladioli, marigolds, and tulips under open field and greenhouse conditions." Naqash states that "Kashmir earns around US$6 million annually with just 250 hectares of land under flower cultivation." He adds, "It is growing 20 to 30 per cent every year."

Flower growers do however have some complaints, particularly about finance. Grower Umar Khurshid says, "A flower grower should be provided with full financial assistance for buying infrastructure like greenhouses. A farmer can't do it on his own, especially a beginner." Tantray adds that, "A farmer needs a sum of INR 50,000 (US$1,200) for setting up a greenhouse whereas we are not provided any assistance in the beginning when we need it the most." Flower growers are also frustrated that the government provides no help to them for selling their flowers and they have to look for buyers.

However, Kashmir, says researcher Shams Imran, has a huge market. "Demand for flowers, as cut, loose, dry, potpourri, bulbs, seeds, bunches bouquets, ornamentals, fillers and other forms, is increasing throughout the world. Be it birth, marriage, meeting, death, health, or reception, flowers are the essential ingredient and the youth can play a key role in this booming sector."

Written by: Athar Parvaiz

Date published: March 2011


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