Farmer Budgam’s business flourishes as he ventures into floristry

Wearing a woolen pheran, a traditional loose overcoat, Ali Mohammad Mir from Khanda village in Budgam is busy working in one of his polyhouses along the Srinagar-Pulwama highway.

Mir is an agricultural entrepreneur who has moved from rice farming to cut flowers. He is so engrossed in weeding the wild grass of a commercial crop of Lilium, a herbaceous plant in the liliaceae family grown from bulbs, that the traps of heavy rain splashing on the cover of the playhouse do not don’t bother.

“The crop is ready for harvest,” Mir said, as his face lit up with happiness.

He explained that the stems must have been picked at this time when the buds show coloring before flowering.

The stem of Lilium bears one or more flowers; each flower has six petal-like segments forming a trumpet-like shape. It takes up to three months for Lilium to flower.

This flowering plant has many varieties; not all are commercially viable.

Intermittent rains for the past two days have delayed the harvest of his Lilium stalks.

“The market is good these days,” he said, adding that a crop of Asian Lili, nearly 27,00 stems from a polyhouse, had been sold the previous month at Rs. 60 per stem.

“I need to harvest the crop as soon as possible to get the best prices,” Mir said, adding that he hopes to prepare nearly 5,300 stems from 6,000 plants from two other greenhouses.

“Many rods have to be discarded for poor quality or damage,” he said.

In terms of money at the prevailing market rate, 60 rupees per rod, the gross amount will be around 4,80,000 for 8,000 rods, the number he sells for a session.

“The culture of the lilium has expenses. It needs fertilizer, three sprays of fungicides and insecticides in addition to manual labour,” he said, adding that he had earlier bought a lilium bulb for 35 rupees from a company Private from New Delhi.

However, this year he received free Lilium bulbs from CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) Field Station, Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM), Bonera, Pulwama. The profit ratio is set to increase.

The florist sells all its cut flowers on site. “I have clients in Srinagar and other districts. My cut flowers are of high quality due to which the demand has never diminished,” he said.

Mir’s date with Lilium dates back to 2014 when he sold his first delivery to a dealer in New Delhi.

He recalls buyers being so impressed with the quality of his Lilium cut flowers that they offered him advance payments, bulbs and other help for growing the next crop.

He refused because for him Lilium was his second preference at that time.

“The harvest of lilium lasts about 15 days, the gerbera produces flowers almost all year round,” he said, adding that the bulbs of lilium must be sown every year while the gerbera, the carnation and the rose are perennials.

Mir has mastered the expertise in growing almost all commercial cut flower crops grown in Kashmir for which he has attended a number of training sessions in Srinagar and other parts of the country including New Delhi, Jaipur , Nagpur and Ludhiana.

He erected 9 other polyhouses on his five-channel plot to grow Gerbera, Carnation, Rose, Gladiolus and other varieties. He also grows hybrid varieties of different vegetables.

From all these cut flowers, he makes a net profit of Rs 5 lakh per season. “I run all my day-to-day business with the savings from this business,” said Mir, a father of four sons.

He said from the income he is funding the education of his two sons, one of whom is doing Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from a university in Bangladesh and the other is in class. 12.

The other two sons are economically independent.

This agri-entrepreneur is quite satisfied with his new business which has made him famous.

At a flower exhibition recently held at the Srinagar Botanical Garden, it won top prizes in the cut flower category for Gerbera and Gladiolus.

“Making money isn’t my only goal in life, it’s only human to feel good when people recognize and appreciate your work,” he said.

Mir switched to cult flowers in 2010 after being inspired by a villager, Abdul Hamid Magray from the nearby village of Magray Pora.

Magray, who owned a polyhouse of cut flowers, informed Mir that this new agriculture was more profitable than growing paddy.

Without thinking, he began growing many flowering species in the open field, including marigold, zinnia, aster, petunia, and sage.

“They were grown for the seeds,” he said. Encouraged by the good returns from the floral business, he turned to high-tech agriculture in 2011.

He submitted a project report to the Floriculture Department for constructing 12 greenhouses after registering with them and being granted a loan of Rs 14 lakh.

“The floriculture department provided a subsidy at the rate of 50%,” he said, adding that the loan was repaid with income from his flower business.

Mir is a successful agro-entrepreneur considered by many in Khanda and neighboring villages as an inspiration to follow.

Switching from rice cultivation to cut flowers was not an easy task; there were also challenges.

A serious challenge for the Mir fancier was how to control the pests, an attack of red mites and whiteflies caused severe damage to a full crop of rose and gerbera respectively.

The loss came as a setback for him, he didn’t lose heart. He consulted Dr. Satya Naryan, head trainer at the International Horticulture Innovation and Training Center in Jaipur.

With his guidance, the pests were managed. Wind damage to polyhouse cover and theft of equipment by rivals were other threats. He defied them firmly.

The COVID-induced lockdown has been a blow. The market has been closed and demand for cut flowers has declined, he said

A couple of loyal customers from Srinagar insisted on further shipments, they went to his residence in Khanda to ask for the resumption of supply.

He obliged by delivering many bouquets of cut flowers, but the losses still could not be avoided.

“During these two years, a loss of 10 lakh rupees has been recorded,” Mir said.

Since February 2022, it has been working with new vigor and renewed energy and plans for expansion.

Lilium and other cut flowers are very delicate; they must be delivered within 24 hours of harvest. A delay in delivery causes the flowers to wilt,” he said.

He said the floriculture department should provide him with a small refrigerated van for delivering cut flowers.

“The refrigerated van will reduce costs,” he said.

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