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Sweet shift to flower power

Lallan Shukla has reinvented the meaning of Champaran — the land of flowers.

A resident of Baswariya village near Motihari, Lallan had a flourishing sugarcane farm till 2000 when his record produce took a hit. He switched to flowers after the debacle and got several others sharing his thoughts, especially when most of the sugar factories downed their shutters in the past decade.

The transformation was, however, not easy. “I experimented floriculture in 2000 but even after gathering technological knowhow as well as procuring seedlings from farmers in Calcutta, only 140 of around 2,000 saplings survived the soil and moist conditions of Champaran,” he said. Historically, the place, Champaran, got its name from champa (magnolia) and aranya (forest). Lallan took floriculture as a vocation out of compulsion but after a season of loss he started to make profits. At present, Lallan is growing flowers like African Marigold, China Marigold, gladiolus, tuberose and cherry across his five-acre farm. He has turned a role model for around 25 farmers — all were cultivating sugarcane around 10 years ago — with his profits hovering around Rs 3-4 lakh.

“Flowers grown in and around Motihari as well as in adjoining parts of several blocks nowadays cater to the requirement in bordering districts like West Champaran, Gopalganj, Siwan, Muzaffarpur, Sheohar, Sitamarhi. During peak season, flowers are also sent to Nepal,” said district horticulture officer Jairam Paul.

Paul added that the 25-odd farmers — who grow flowers across 50 acres — have started a market, Phool Gaon, in the heart of the city. “Besides depending on Calcutta market for regular supply of the flowers, the seasonal supply from local villages has also become important source of our trade at a lower cost,” said Rajesh Patel, one of the traders of Phool Gaon.

In fact, Lallan and five other farmers were taken by Rajendra Agriculture University, Pusa, (RAU) to India’s one of the big flower markets, Mallik Ghat, in Calcutta and also on a farm visit to Bengal’s West Midnapore district a few years ago. In 2004, the then head of RAU floriculture department, H.P. Mishra, visited Lallan in Baswariya village and extended expert tips of growing flowers. Later, RAU vice-chancellor H.P. Singh and Tirhut Agriculture College, Pusa, principal I.N. Mishra also visited Lallan’s village.

Besides providing training to the farmers, the district horticulture department also tried to extend subsidy to them. “We have sent a proposal to the government for 50 per cent subsidy to farmers of special crops. At present, such subsidy is given only to farmers in Patna, Gaya and Vaishali districts,” said horticulture officer Paul. He added that cold storages were necessity as flowers had to be preserved fresh before being sent to other districts and states.

The Nabard also came forward in helping Lallan, who set up such a large farm in the East Champaran district. “I got active support from the then chief general manager and general manager who both came to my village,” recalled Lallan, who was awarded with “Bihar Gaurav” by chief minister Nitish Kumar during the state’s centenary celebrations last year before actor Aamir Khan inviting him for a discussion on a special episode on agriculture on Satyameva Jayate.