Thursday, August 23, 2012

Floriculture In North East

Ever since times immemorial the eternal beauty of flowers has been used by human beings to convey their most basic and heartfelt emotions of joy or sorrow. Flowers are known to have existed on planet earth for millions of years and if we are careful enough, they would continue to bundle the message of joy, forever.

Scientists have documented over 270,000 species of flowers that are living in the 21st Century. Such is the mystique of flowers that Empress Josephine of France collected 2,562 different roses while Emperor of China owned over 600 books about Roses. The oil extracted from the roses in the Emperor's garden was only to be used by nobles and high ranking dignitaries of the court and commoners found in possession of even the smallest amount, of this exotic oil were condemned to death!

According to an old Celtic legend, the spirits of children who died in childbirth scattered daisies on the earth to cheer their sorrowing parents. Early Christians called this flower Mary's Gold, and placed it by the statues of the Virgin Mary. Napoleon was nicknamed "Corporal Violet" because of his beloved Josephine’s particular obsession with the flower. King Henry VIII ate daisies to relieve his stomach ulcer pain. The Romans mixed Calendula a member of the marigold family, with vinegar to season their meat and salad dishes. Calendula blossoms were blended with wine to soothe indigestion, and its petals were used in ointments to cure skin irritations, jaundice, sore eyes, and toothaches.

Traditionally flowers have been grown for aesthetic, social  function besides extraction of essential oil and manufacturing of perfumes. Flowers have also been grown in  private and public gardens and nurseries. Where as earlier, demand for flowers mainly came from institutional buyers like hotels and clubs for parties and special occasions, this pattern is changing. Cut flowers are becoming part of the consumption patterns of people with high incomes. Now apart from their aesthetic value flowers are also being appreciated for their economic value. Floriculture that is cultivation of flowers under controlled conditions for sale in the domestic and the international market is a growing industry worldwide growing at around 10-15 per cent per annum. Much of this is a direct outcome of improvement in the general well-being and affluence, particularly among the middle classes with the money and the purchasing power, to buy brightest and the best goods and services, money can buy. But when it comes to human emotions what could be a better substitute for a small red rose – which does not cost much but conveys feelings better than a thousand words.

Cultivation of cut flowers has slowly developed into a big US $ 35 billion industry in about 145 countries with enormous potential for further expansion into hereto unexplored, newer emerging markets into other parts of the world. And this is just a tip of the ice-berg as consumption of cut flowers is so far largely concentrated in three regions: Western Europe, North America and Japan. About 75% of the international trade comes from within Europe. The highest growth is expected in Japan and the USA. The US, has the largest share of the total world consumption, followed by Germany, Italy and France. Germany alone accounts for 30% of the world imports of cut flowers. Besides Germany, the United States, France and the United Kingdom are big importers.

Flowers have been an integral part of Indian culture. Be it a religious festival, social ritual or an occasion to celebrate an event in daily life – no moment is complete without flowers for decoration or gifting as bouquets to someone special, both home and work place. Floriculture in India, though still in its stage of infancy is a Rs 286.45 crore industry offering as many as 17500 varieties flowering plants like roses, carnations, orchids, gladioli and anthurium. Besides flowers, India also exports perfumes, seeds, bulbs, dried flowers, ferns, leaves and grass. 
This is supported by the demand in Europe, America, Australia, Japan and Singapore. The climatic condition in most of these countries does not favor year around cultivation of these flowers and many of them have to import flowers from other countries. The major importing countries of Cut Flowers are Netherlands, USA, Germany, France, UK, Switzerland, Italy and Japan. The major exporting countries include Netherlands, Columbia, Ecuador, Israel, Spain and Kenya. Being a major market for floriculture, Netherlands both imports and re-exports the flowers. The most important flower traded in the international market is still Rose; however, others like Chrysanthemum, Carnation, Gerbera, Dahlia, Poinsettia, Orchids, Lily etc. are also marketed in large quantities in these countries.

The flower industry comprises the cultivation and trade of cut flowers, cut foliage, potted and bedding plants. The main representatives of cut flowers are: the rose, chrysanthemum, carnation and lily. Potted plants and cut flowers have an almost 80% share of the world trade in ornamental plant products.Gladiolus is an important floral crop for the cut-flower trade. Its magnificent spikes in wide range of colors remain fresh for a pretty long time. Cut spikes are much valued for making floral arrangement for interior decoration and are in constant demand.

Two important components of the floriculture industry are trade of cut flowers and foliage and supply of propagation material including seeds, bulbs, tubers, and cutting-raised plants and tissue culture-raised plants.

According to a "preparatory study" implemented by APEDA, tremendous export potential for orchids in North-East India could translate into a commercially viable enterprise. There is a good potential for the export of traditional flowers to meet the demands of the ethnic population in different countries. Presently traditional flowers are exported to Singapore and Malaysia on a small scale. The traditional flower industry generates employment particularly for women in semi-urban and rural areas who are involved in the various labor stages of this trade from growing to picking, marketing and finally value additions like making garlands etc.

Another encouraging area in the traditional flower industry is "floral oils". There is a growing market for floral oils in the perfume industries of developed countries. Essential oil industries can also create employment opportunities. Yet another area in which traditional flowers show potential is the ‘pigment’ industry. Traditional flowers like marigold and Bachelor’s Button are used for the extraction of pigments and used in multifarious items as natural coloring substances.
This is an upcoming and growing industry and shall stimulate the production of specific traditional flowers on a large scale. Corporate companies are getting into this new field through contract farming. Another promising area is the dry flower industry. Dried flower and plants have been exported for the last 30 years and today, India is one of the leading countries in the field. Not just flowers, but other plant parts like leaves, stems and pods are also used in the dry flower industry.
The existing floriculture products of the North Eastern states are mainly begonias, chrysanthemum, cineraria, dahlia, aster, gladioli, roses, lilies and carnations. The factors which contribute to North east’s strength in this area include an overall high literacy rate, rural electricity and water supply covering more than 90% villages besides a network of roads, rail and air. The region thus has the potential to emerge as a strategic base to tap the vast potential in the emerging markets of Mynmar, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Combodia, Indonesia and other East and South East Asian countries which constitute almost half the world population. 
In addition to fresh flowers, there is a good demand for floral handicrafts made out of dehydrated flowers and foliage. Flowers, branches and twigs can be dehydrated to retain the shape and colour of original fresh flowers. Arrangement of dehydrated flowers and foliage in sealed transparent glass or plastic jars make very good decoration pieces.
The varied forest types of eastern Himalaya exhibit an enormous floristic diversity. Apart from large number of timber species, there are innumerable varieties of orchids, medicinal plants, ferns, bamboos, canes, and even plants of biological curiosities like parasites and saprophytes. Other important group of plants are Rhododendrons, Hedychiums and oaks.
The North Eastern region can proudly boast of more than 600 species of orchids, 52 species of rhododendron, 18 species of hedychium, 16 species of oak,  18 species of canes, 45 species of bamboo in addition to large number of medicinal and aromatic plants. Orchids make up one of the largest families of flowering plants. According to an estimate about 20,000 species of Orchid can be found all over the world. India is a significant producer of both wild and hybrid orchids with over 1,600 species of orchids which constitute almost 10 percent of the world orchid flora. Out of these over 600 are to be found in Arunachal alone. Among others this Orchid Paradise has some very exotic varieties like Sita-Pushpa and Draupadi-Pushpa, which were believed to have been worn by Sita and Draupadi for ornamentation. Many of these orchids are rare, endangered and highly ornamental with long-lasting flower qualities. 

Another state in north eastern India,  Meghalaya, also can boast of a wide variety of plants which occur naturally. Meghalaya's endemic Pitcher Plant found in the Jaintia, Khasi and Garo Hills

remains an explicable phenomenon to the botanists. The Khasi tribals call it “Tiew-Rakot, which means demon-flower or devouring-plant while the Jaintias call it Kset Phare. Kset meaning  net with a lid and Phare means fly. The Garos call the plant Memang-Koksi, which literally means the basket of the devil. It is an unique variety of carnivorous plant. When the plant attains maturity, the lid can open and shut itself trapping unsuspecting insects inside the pitcher.
Meghalaya is also a treasure trove of  as many as 325 species of varied and colorful orchids which grow in the meadows, hill-slopes and swamps and all the wayside all over the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills. Orchids in Meghalaya grow at different heights, mostly on trees and mossy rocks.

Meghalaya can also boast of a wide collection of medicinal plants like Ipecac, Rauvolfia serpentina, Cinchona, Abromine, Chaulmoogra Oil, Croton Oil, Eucalyptus, Castor Oil, Chiretta, Solanum khasianum, Casearia vareca, Zanthoxylum armatum, Hedyotis scandens, Paederia foetida, Salix alba, Anacardium occidentale, Cinnamomum, Taxus baccata

However despite the vast potential many floriculturists in North East have yet to realize the true potential. 

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