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Hundreds of Farmers in Jammu & Kashmir Earning Five Times More through Marigold Cultivation

In a span of 12 years, these farmer families of Kellarh Valley in Jammu and Kashmir found a new cash crop — marigold that has increased their income manifold.

Ayushi Raina
Kashmiri Farmer growing marigold in field
Kashmiri Farmer growing marigold in field

Over 520 families in Jammu and Kashmir's hilly Bhaderwah town's scenic Kellarh Valley have gradually abandoned maize farming in favour of lucrative marigold production over a 12-year period. According to the villagers, their new cash crop pays them five times as much as the traditional maize crop. 

"Maize crop grown over one Kanal of land would give us an income of around Rs.5000-6000, whereas our farmers are now earning Rs.25000-Rs.30000 from the sale of 6-8 quintals of flowers grown over the same land area," says Mohammad Iqbal, one of the Kellarh Valley's progressive farmers in Doda District. 

Iqbal, who produces marigolds, apples, garlic, and other cash crops on an area of around 10 Kanals and earns in lakhs, was recently awarded by Rameswar Teli, the Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Petroleum and Natural Gas, while in town for a "public outreach programme." 

The marigold crop was brought to the picturesque Kellarh Village of Bhaderwah town in 2009 by the newly formed Bhaderwah Development Authority (BDA). 

Talat Parvez Rohella, Commissioner Secretary, Hospitality and Protocol Department, Jammu and Kashmir Govt., who is credited with introducing the flower crop in the region when he was posted as CEO Bhaderwah Development Authority (BDA), says, "Way back in 2009, we distributed Nasturtium flower seeds to the farmers of Kellarh under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY)." 

The government initiative RKVY has been renamed 'Remunerative Approach for Agriculture and Allied Sector Rejuvenation.' 

According to the senior bureaucrat, since Nasturtium was exported to Holland at the time, farmers in the Bhaderwah region reaped enormous benefits from the production of the new cash crop. 

"After the Nasturtium's success, we involved the Panchayat members of Kellarh and sensitised the village farmers through them about the possibilities of planting 'profitable' marigold crop over conventional maize crop under the RKVY scheme," Rohella stated. 

Rohella says the RKVY scheme,  gives a subsidy of Rs.13000 per four kanals of land, "Which was a big deal for the Kellarh farmers who won't get any subsidy for cultivating traditional crops till then." 

"However, in the first year, we were only able to persuade 10-20 farmers. But I'm grateful that almost all of the farmers are now cultivating marigold and earning a better living," says Talat Parvez Rohella, the J&K government's Commissioner Secretary ranking official. 

When asked where he obtained the seeds from, the senior KAS official replies, "For this, we enlisted the help of Malerkotla, Punjab farmers who were cultivating and exporting the marigold flower to provide the seeds to J&K farmers." 

"Our farmers benefited greatly from this trade since they were offered with the seeds 'free-of-cost,' and the Punjab farmers also guaranteed a 'buy back' of the seeds from J&K farmers at crop maturity," he claims, adding, So this entire business improved our farmers' revenue manifolds." 

 Floriculture, A Thriving Business 

Hind Bhushan, 52, a renowned farmer of Gajoth Village in Kellarh Valley and a member of the J&K Kissan Advisory Board, claims he was among a handful who dared to switch from growing conventional maize crops to planting flowers in 2009. 

"The transition was difficult for many farmers in our community," Bhushan adds, adding that he was often taunted by other farmers in his village for "damaging my fields by preferring the flower crop over maize." 

"But I didn't pay much attention to what others in our town said because I'd visited to numerous other states by then and witnessed how farmers earned a better living solely via better farming practices,"Bhushan says.

He claims that until 2013-14, Gajoth was not linked to the road, thus farmers had to travel kilometers on foot, carrying the flower produce on their shoulders, to load it in buses from 8-km distance Bhalla Village and then sell it in Jammu and Katra markets themselves. 

"However, with the construction of the 8-km-long PMGSY road from Bhalla to Gajoth, the business of marigold flower growers in our area expanded," he says, adding, "After 2014, practically all the farmers took up marigold farming and began earning lakhs." 

Many Inspired Farmers 

Gajoth Sarpanch Devinder Kotwal, 49, claims that his village has around 2,600 souls and that the average land holding capacity of Gajoth farmers is 5-10 Kanals of land. 

"Almost all of them are now sprouting marigolds," he says. 

He claims that flower seeds are sown in nurseries between February and March. The flower saplings are seeded in the fields in March, and the flowers bloom during the first week of June. 

"From June to October, the farmers harvest and sell their goods to dealers in Jammu, Kathua, and Punjab," he adds. 

During peak season, farmers in Kellarh Valley sell an average of 200-300 quintals of flowers every day, according to Kotwal. Only in Gajoth Village, he says, the selling reaches 100 quintals per day during the peak season. 

He states that various Kellarh farmers have formed separate self-help groups and that they together sell the flower produce to roughly 30-35 flower sellers from Jammu, Kathua, and Punjab. 

"A fixed amount is subtracted from the sale, and the remainder is given directly to the farmers in their accounts," the Gajoth Sarpanch says. According to Kellarh farmers, the average price of one kg. of marigold flower is Rs.30-Rs 35. 

 Kotwal believes that switching to marigold cultivation has earned numerous farmers in his community lakhs of rupees. 

One of them is Devan Chand, 54, the son of Hem Raj of Gajoth. Since 2009, Chand has owned 10 Kanals of land and has been farming marigold crops with other cash crops such as garlic and apples. 

"Until 2009, I was earning between Rs.50000 and Rs.60000 by producing typical maize on 10 Kanals of my property. However, after 2009, my average salary has climbed to almost Rs.2 lakh-Rs.3 lakh," he says. 

"From the selling of flowers and other cash crops, I made a whopping income of Rs.13 lakh in one of the seasons," Chand adds 

Sanjeet Kumar, 43, son of Hem Raj, is another farmer from Kharua Village in Kellarh Valley who states, "During the first wave of the COVID pandemic, I sold the flower produce at Rs.60 per kg and made lakhs of rupees." 

Kissan Advisory Board member Hind Bhushan states that the average revenue of practically all marigold farmers in his village has grown tremendously. "It's made our life easier," he says. 

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