Orchid farming is catching up in Telangana but is it sustainable?
Orchid farming is catching up in Telangana but is it sustainable?

Orchid farming is catching up in Telangana but is it sustainable?

Heavy investment costs and water quality is still a hindrance for many small and big farmers to opt for the flower crop.

It was in 2016 that Samir, an industrialist turned farmer, set up his eight acre orchid farm in Telangana’s Medak district. After numerous failed attempts at cultivating lesser grown varieties of crops like zucchini, certain types of capsicum and pomegranate, Samir came across a farmer in Raipur who introduced him to orchid farming that same year.

“I considered the prospects of growing the daisy flower, but realised that during off-season the crop couldn’t even recover the transportation costs. However, orchid seemed a perfect option despite the arid climatic conditions in Telangana,” Samir says.

He goes on to add: “It was investment-heavy and required the setting up a polyhouse but also had great demand in market. Raipur has similar climatic conditions as Telangana. Though it turns slightly colder than Telangana during winters, the temperature difference seemed manageable with the help of a polyhouse.”

Today, Samir and three of his friends cultivate orchids, in eight acres of land in the outskirts of Hyderabad. The business is profitable, the farmer says, with a single stalk of orchid costing between Rs 15-20. Samir is also credited with having introduced the idea of orchid farming to the Horticulture Department in the state, which now cultivates orchids in 10.35 acres of state-owned land.

80% of India’s orchids are transported from Thailand. Barring a few North-Eastern states, orchid farming is considered to be a risky proposition because of the heavy investment required to grow the crop. The climatic conditions of Telangana are not conducive to the growth of the flower crop. However, a couple of farmers have now taken to orchid farming, a crop which was previously never heard of in the state.

How orchid farming is catching up in Telangana

According to the State Horticulture Department, the orchid farmers in the state have been supplying orchids to 500 auditoriums in the state which were earlier dependent on imports from Thailand. Speaking to TNM, KR Latha, Assistant Director of the Horticulture Department, says this has been possible because of the 75% subsidy given to the farmers in setting up the polyhouse, a greenhouse-like setup, required to maintain ideal climatic conditions for the growth of orchids.

“The flowers need a temperature of 20 degree Celsius and humidity of 80%. The polyhouse helps in maintaining this ideal temperature required for the growth. The setup typically costs Rs 35 lakh of which 25 lakhs is given as grant to farmers. They are eligible up to a minimum of 200 sq/mts and maximum of 12,000 sq/mts of land, to set up polyhouses under the scheme,” the official explains.

The government's support for growing orchids comes under protected cultivation, she adds.

"Maharashtra and other neighbouring states had taken up protected cultivation (growing orchids is an example) in the late 1990s. However, when the Telangana state was formed, there was hardly 100 acres of land under protected farming. Our CM himself is a farmer and he had had experiences of reaping good profits from polyhouse cultivation. Therefore, we decided to provide the subsidy to any plantation that uses polyhouse to promote this form of agriculture in the state where the climate is not suitable for many varieties of plants. At present, we have 1300 acres of land under protected farming," says Latha. 

At the Centre of Excellence in Jeedimetla, where the horticulture crops are grown, the department has planted the Sonia Red and Sonia White varieties of the Dendrobium orchid flower. The methods to grow these have been introduced to the farmers as well. There are micro-sprinklers beneath the crop, which cool down the temperature inside the polyhouse and help maintain levels of humidity.

Raju, another orchid farmer in the state, has been growing orchids in his 2-acre farm for the past two years. Speaking to TNM, he says the crop has been giving him decent returns, but only with the help of state subsidy. Raju was previously a paddy cultivator who eventually shifted to orchid cultivation.

“It is the heavy investment that often makes farmers shy away from the prospects of considering orchid cultivation. But with the help of subsidies, the risk involved is reduced and it also helps farmers to first experiment on a small patch of land, enabling him/her to avoid making a complete switch from other forms of farming even with limited acres of land,” Raju says.

A crop only for the rich?

Apart from maintaining the climatic conditions, water quality is equally important for the growth of orchids. “The quality of groundwater in Telangana isn’t up to the mark because of which we practice rain-water harvesting. And this is one of the reasons that orchid farming doesn’t prosper in many parts of our state, owing to water-deficit or unavailability of quality water,” Samir says.

The state, up to a year, offered 75-90% subsidy to farmers who were willing to take up the cultivation of the orchid crops as production cost. But from 2018, the state offers subsidy only to set up polyhouses, precisely because even a single acre of orchid cultivation can cost the state up to Rs 25 lakh.

“Per acre, including the cost of the polyhouse, it costs around Rs 60 lakh to grow a single acre of orchid plant. It includes the plants, the flowerbeds and irrigation. So, if you don’t get a subsidy, the crop is not viable,” Samir says, adding, “There is an entry-level barrier which prevents farmers in opting for the crop. The flower fetches a good price in the market but still, it’s difficult for a farmer to even recover the interest on Rs 60 lakh without the help of state subsidies.”

The ability to tie-up with agents to sell the produce and lack of marketing expertise in commercial floriculture is also an issue, Samir notes.

Speaking to TNM, Ravi Kanneganti, a member of the Rythu Swaraj Vedika, says that often, small farmers do not avail the subsidies because each of the polyhouse crops, like orchids, is investment-heavy despite the subsidies provided by the government.

“These subsidies are only availed by the rich and the bureaucrats, whereas the small-scale farmers in our state require shade nets, which are a lot less expensive, compared to polyhouse. Shade nets are simple net coverings that help cool down the temperature for any kind of horticulture crop. I have personally made a representation to the government in this regard. Also, polyhouse crops need a heavy usage of pesticide when compared to open farming. Why should we resort to artificial means of planting when there is a lot more the state can do to help farmers without bearing the cost of such heavy subsidies?” Kanneganti asks.

Explaining the situation, Latha says that the scheme for subsidy is still on paper, but due to cash crunch they need to, at times, restrict the subsidy amount.

“We can provide capital for structures but not for production. It’s not being promoted because orchid farming is capital intensive. A single acre of orchid crop requires a subsidy of minimum Rs 20-25 lakh whereas other vegetable crops and flowers require only Rs 3-4 lakh (which is provided by the department). So we always advise the farmers to grow other crops along with orchids,” the official says. She further adds, “This is the reason why we promote other flower crops too including Gerbera and Carnation. They are plants that grow in humid climate and each plant lives up to seven years. We already have a 700-acre plantation of these crops grown around Telangana. This way, the farmers can also recover the investment cost on orchids.”

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