Exotic roses are set to become the latest chapter of a floral revolution in the Churah valley of Himachal Pradesh’s Chamba district. Some 400 farmers under a cooperative society plan to diversify beyond the flowers that have already brought them success — high-demand carnations, gaillardias, lilies — by growing roses good enough to export.
Flower sales fetched the Churah Valley Vegetable and Agriculturists Cooperative Society Rs 8.16 crore in 2011-12, marking successive jumps from Rs 3.63 crore in 2009-10 and Rs 6.54 crore in 2010-11. All this came amid competition from other Himachal Pradesh farmers who ventured into commercial cultivation of flowers and been trying to capture major markets in North India. Hence the plan to diversify into something new. Churah farmers have already experimented with a few varieties of red roses and are optimistic that in five years they can turn their valley, 500 km from Shimla, into a “rose country”.
“Roses are in high demand,” says O P Sharma, a Central Customs officer who belongs to Churah and is working with the society on its “alternative development” project. “They have a longer shelf life and are easier to handle than the other flowers being grown in the Churah valley. It takes our consignments, currently sent through HRTC (Himachal Road Transport Corporation) buses, more than 24 hours to reach Delhi markets. A delay of a few more hours would take away the freshness of the Churah flowers, whose USP is being the most favoured.”
There is yet another reason for the farmers to plan a shift to rose cultivation. “Some of the flower varieties we have been growing for the past 10 years have become vulnerable to diseases,” says Keshari Singh, who grows flowers in Donri village. “This has affected quality and also yield, despite scientific interventions to prevent a recurrence of the diseases. Diversification to roses is the best option.”
Shifts have been a feature of the Churah valley’s agricultural history. Most of the one lakh residents of its 48 panchayats are agriculturists. Before Independence, the region was known for producing high-quality honey, grains and milk. In later years, it slipped into backwardness and poverty due to neglect, lack of road connectivity, malnutrition and illiteracy. The cooperative started with 20 farmers in 1995-96, leading to the floral revolution.
For roses, the society will begin by setting up a 10,000 sq m demonstration plot and train farmers in best practices for