Water Crisis
In Rathnasamy’s village of the 20 odd jasmine farmers, barely 5 of them are still cultivating in their farms.

Madurai’s malli received Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2013. The flower that the locals take immense pride in is not just sold within the country but also exported to other parts of the world. In Madurai, this flower with a heady scent has had a difficult summer with many farmers choosing to forgo cultivation on their fields.

In Madurai’s Melauppiligundu village, farmer Ganapathy, who has been cultivating jasmine in his 3.5 acres of land, says that he had to bring in water from 3000 feet away, as a last resort after the wells in his farms sunk lower.

“It is a 550-feet bore that I dug using my own expenses. The pipe connection from there to my field is also my own expense. The bores I had dug in my own land have run dry. Many others in my village, who were not able to shell out money from their pocket, have not been able to harvest any flowers this season,” he says.

Borewell that has run dry in Ganapathy's farm; barren lands behind his farm

Ganapathy says that of the 50 acres of jasmine farms in his village, less than 35 might be in use today. “Half the jasmine farmers in my village have not been able to get any yield from their farms in my village. You can see, a lot of them are barren,” he points around.

Just a few kilometers away in T Kokulam, farmer S Rathnasamy has given up on his two-acre jasmine field for lack of water. “There’s no water in my village. How deep can you dig borewells? The water quality changes and is unfit for the plants. They only wilt,” he rues.

Rathnasamy buys water tankers for Rs 200 - Rs 400 once every 10 days to water his field. “My plants will die otherwise. I’ve already lost the plants in about two cents on my field,” he explains. In Rathnasamy’s village of the 20 odd jasmine farmers, barely five of them are still cultivating in their farms.

Jasmine, a perennially flowering plant goes through a short offseason during the months of December and January every year. Rest of the year the plant is in bloom. Ganapathy explains the plant’s cycle, “In 22 days from the time you start watering and it starts showing its tips, the plant starts blooming. It continuously flowers for 8 to 9 days after which you’ll have to let it rest for another 9 days. Then you’ll have to trim and add fertilisers for its next cycle to begin.”

Farmers, with the help from flower pickers, harvest about 80 to 100 kilograms per acre; 20-30 kilos more if they’re lucky.

Market for these plants are a whole different ballgame. So Ramachandran, President of the Flower Market explains that rates for jasmines are never fixed and varies every hour based on the flower’s quality. “In the morning when the first batch comes, based on the quality of the flower farmers and sellers decide upon rates,” he tells us. Wholesale buyers like Ramachandran buy kilos of jasmines directly from farmers for a commission rate and then sell it to other buyers.

Ganapathy explains about the damaged drip tubes that he had to repair

Ramachandran, who is the fourth generation into this family business also says that close to 10,000 acres of land is being used to cultivate jasmine just in Madurai. On Monday, the flowers were sold at Rs 500 per kilogram says, Ramachandran. In June, the price for a kilogram of jasmines was Rs 70 on an average. He also notes that business has taken a hit this season with quantity of flowers coming in reducing by almost 70%. 

Lack of water isn’t the only problem facing jasmine farmers in Madurai. Farmers point out that without proper support or subsidy from the government these troubling times for them become inevitable. 

Ganapathy who purchased drip irrigation tubes from the government at a subsidy few months ago ended up spending over half the amount in excess form his own pockets to fix them. “The nozzles of the drip tubes were damaged. I had to fix them with my money. Moreover, who pays for all the costs we spend on digging bore wells? Currently the bore is supplying water to my field, for which I had to spend close to Rs 3 lakh. If the government shared this money load for us, most of the farmers who had given up on their field for lack of investment might not have done so,” he adds.