India's flower farms a budding investment

Fri May 20, 2011 4:43am EDT
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By Jo Winterbottom and Rajendra Jadhav

SATARA, India (Reuters Life!) - A decade ago, Rahul Pawar made an unusual and risky choice -- to grow flowers in the center of India's biggest sugar-producing state.

Now he's reaping the rewards of his 1.1 million rupee ($24,409) investment as increasingly affluent Indians want his bright blooms for their weddings and festivals.

"Every year we are seeing a rise in demand. People are using more and more flowers at functions like weddings," Pawar said.

"They are ready to pay for flowers like gerbera and gladioli, which are new to them," he added, holding a fluorescent bird of paradise bloom in his weather-beaten hands.

Pawar grows orange and red gerberas under polythene in climate-controlled conditions to shield them from Maharashtra's scorching summer, when temperatures can top 48 C.

The hardier birds of paradise plants flourish in the field and take three years to reach production of 30 flowers each. They will flash their orange and purple crests for 20 years.

The central belt of Maharashtra is prime sugar cane country, producing over nine million tonnes of the sweetener -- or about 40 percent of India's total output.

The government guarantees minimum prices for farmers, currently at 139.12 rupees per 100 kilogrammes, for sugar cane. Sugar is an important source of food energy for a country where over 42 percent of the 1.2 billion population are below the poverty line.   Continued...

<p>Flower grower Rahul Pawar picks bird of paradise in a field during a tour of his property in Satara district, about 285km (177 miles) south of Mumbai May 10, 2011. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash</p>