Tulip bulbs shine on Kashmiri farmers

BISMAH MALIK | Updated on May 31, 2012 Published on May 31, 2012

Kashmir ki kali! Tulip growers tend to the plants at a nursery in Srinagar. - ALI IMRAN

Buoyed by the high returns, tulip farming takes root in the Valley, which has the perfect weather conditions for it too.

Muhammad Shaban, a floriculturist in Harwan on the outskirts of Srinagar, is ecstatic now that his farm business is gradually reviving after years of losses, during which he had often thought of giving up. The turnaround began after he replaced his traditional crop of blue poppies and Ranunculus with tulips.

Though Shaban and several other Kashmiri floriculturists are new to tulips they are already convinced that they have made the right shift.

The returns have been higher than expected, prompting many growers to adopt contemporary methods of tulip farming.

“The profit margin from growing each tulip bulb into a cut flower is Rs 10. This means that even a small piece of land could generate significant revenue for us — a profit of at least Rs 3-4 lakh per season, depending on the number of tulip bulbs grown,” says Shaban.

Fresh from the lab

Kashmir's newfound interest in tulip cultivation equally owes to the research intervention by scientists and floriculturists at the University of Kashmir and Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences.

It all began in 2010 as an experiment to grow tulips in polyhouses under a collaboration between the scientists and the State's Floriculture Department. Tulip polyhouses with inbuilt temperature controls were handed over to local growers, making it possible for them to grow tulips any time of the year, particularly during winter when demand for the flower peaks.

Blossoming demand

“The wedding season in almost all the States of India begins from November and we were targeting that. The early bloom in November made it possible to market our tulips at the onset of the festive season and the response was beyond amazing,” says Javed Ahmad Shah, the official in charge of Asia's largest tulip garden, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden in Srinagar.

Nearly five lakh tulips were sent to various parts of the country during the three-month winter period.

The flowers found their way to cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore through a tie-up that the State Floriculture Department had with Mumbai-based flower chain Florista.

“We found a huge market for Kashmiri tulips in the various cities, especially on special occasions such as New Year's Day, Christmas, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. Tulips are the best ornamental flowers for any occasion and the high sales proved us right,” Shah says.

Perfect weather

Luckily for Kashmir, tulips are not grown elsewhere in India; the Valley's unmatched weather conditions favour the flower's growth.

“Kashmir's extreme winters are just perfect for tulip bulbs to root; and as they are spring flowers, the natural bloom is expected by early March. The research intervention combined with the most perfect weather conditions have made tulips not only an added attraction to Kashmir's breathtaking beauty but also a good source of revenue,” Dr Anzar, a botanist at University of Kashmir says.

Earlier, in 2008, Srinagar's Tulip Garden at the foot of the Zabarwan Hills was inaugurated by the then Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

With its magnificent display of 1.2 million tulips across 30 hectares, the garden has already become a big tourist attraction.

This year, according to official estimates, nearly 1.5 lakh tourists — domestic and foreign — visited the garden.

“There is no doubt that the Tulip Garden has added to the number of tourist spots in the Valley and has, in fact, advanced the tourism season by almost two months. People from all over India and even other countries visit Kashmir particularly to see the multihued tulips blending with the perfect spring weather of the Valley. It's an absolute must-see,” says Shah.

Native varieties

Holland, the globally famous tulip-growing region, is where Kashmiri growers procure tulip bulbs from.

“We have imported nearly 1.2 million tulip bulbs in 68 varieties to Kashmir since 2008. But we intend to grow native varieties of the flower here, particularly after some Dutch botanists who visited the Valley said that Kashmir's natural environment is apt for tulip cultivation,” Dr Anzar says.

With the native varieties, the growers hope to cut import costs as well as develop the “Kashmiri tulip” brand in local and international flower markets.

“Producing our own varieties of tulips could be a very constructive initiative. The most important factor on our side is the cold weather and prolonged spring season, which is the most favourable for tulip cultivation. Locally we see no competition in this area, so we could easily rule the domestic flower markets to begin with. But, at the same time, we have to develop state-of-the-art infrastructure and research methodologies to help in branding our ornamental plants, particularly tulips,” Shah says.

The growers are also pinning their hopes on greater support from the Government, says Shaban.

“A flower farm is a good source of income for poor growers. However, the Government should provide the high-value crop greenhouses at subsidised rates and launch awareness drives to get more growers in the Valley to cultivate tulips; this, in turn, will fetch Kashmir more profits and tourists as well.”

Published on May 31, 2012
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