The beautiful Asiatic lilies of Holland have failed to spread fragrance of prosperity among the tribal farmers of Lahaul valley of Himachal Pradesh who had turned the cold desert into a valley of flowers hoping to reap a rich harvest in floriculture.
With hundreds of farmers engaged in flower production, Lahaul valley produced record flowers this year. Nearly one lakh sticks of ceb dazzle, pollyanna, brindisi and other varieties of lilies were reaching Delhi from Lahaul every day until last week. Farmers spent about Rs 15 to purchase one bulb (seed), which were imported from Holland. A bulb yields one stem of flower, which was sold for Rs 5-6 in Delhi market, causing big losses to farmers.
Many farmers have now abandoned their lily farms and are not selling them in markets.
"My A-grade flowers were sold for Rs 6 per stem and about Rs 3 was spent on packing, handling and transportation. This way I recovered only Rs 3 after spending Rs 15 on it. This is ridiculous," said Raj Kumar from Teling village of Lahaul, who expects a loss of Rs 80,000 from his flower cultivation.
"All efforts of the horticulture department to promote floriculture in Lahaul have proved futile, because farmers were expecting a price of Rs 30 to 40 per stem," he said.
Potatoes and peas are the traditional crops of Lahaul-Spiti, the largest district in Himachal Pradesh. Influenced by horticulture and agriculture departments, many farmers took flower cultivation as a way of earning good amount five years back. Last year too, farmers could get just around Rs 10-15 per stem. The fragrance of lilies spreads across dozens of villages including Khinang, Khangsar, Gondla, Teling, Nukar, Dalang, Robsang, Shuling and Khorpani between Khoksar and Udaipur. But improper marketing by the government and a long-chain of middle agents has proved fatal for these cultivators.
A stem need to attain minimum length of 70 cm and wear at least three flowers to be in A-grade. All other short stems with fewer flowers are counted as B-grade. Growers can take flowers till three years after sowing the bulbs but quality of flowers keep reducing every year. Lal Chand, another flower cultivator, said, "We couldn't get reasonable price for our quality flowers and growers are hesitating in sending the remaining B-grade flowers. I think I cannot gather courage to cultivate lilies next year."
Horticulture deputy director Sonam Angrup said all varieties of lilies from Lahaul reached the markets at one time, which caused excess market supply. "We are going to introduce bamboo sheds and structures for flower cultivators, which will bring down inner temperature to increase shelf life. This way we can increase quality of our flowers, which then can live a longer life," he said.