The Telegraph
Saturday , September 15 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Farmers to take nethouse route for exotic flower export fortune
- Agriculture scientists develop means to cultivate orchids commercially

Anandi Mandal, a farmer from the outskirts of Sabour, usually cultivates vegetables. But he could soon start tending to flowers as an alternative source of earning.

At Bihar Agriculture University in Sabour, around 8km east from Bhagalpur and 231km east from Patna, scientists are developing means to cultivate the flower commercially in nethouses or polyhouses to provide local farmers with an alternative livelihood.

“Keeping in mind the high demand for the exotic flowers in the country and abroad, the scientists are using tissue culture methods to cultivate orchids,” said Bihar Agriculture University vice-chancellor M.L. Choudhary.

He added that the university would start distributing the plants and seeds among local farmers next year. The scientists would also train them in the latest technology.

The varsity recently received Rs 1.8 crore to develop means for commercial cultivation of vegetables and flowers under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana — a special project of the Union government. The university used this money to import high-yielding variety of orchids from Poland and bought some flowers from Bangalore.

“Each plant costs between Rs 110 and Rs 120. Most of them are imported and we are developing them with tissue culture methods. We hope to give the farmers the flowers, sapling and seeds next year at Rs 8 to Rs 10,” said Randhir Kumar, a senior scientist at the university and head of the orchid project.

He added that all orchids were perennial herbs and lacks any permanent woody structure. Perennials are those plants, which live for more than two years, different from annual or biennial plants that complete their biological life cycle in a year or two respectively. An orchid plant can survive for three to five years, yielding flowers round the year.

They can grow either as monopodial (the stem of the plant grows from a single bud and leaves sprout from the apex every year) or sympodial (the stem produces a series of adjacent shoots). The sympodial variety grows laterally, flowing the ground for support, to a certain length, blooms and are then replaced with new shoots and leaves.

“A variety of flowers can be grown in both methods but the sympodial species yield more. Around 12 to 14 flowers can grow on one stick,” Kumar said.

He added: “Bright Singapore and Sonia White are the best varieties for the weather conditions in this region.”

In the five poly houses on the varsity campus, the plants are grown on nylon or plastic fibres at a height of 3ft from the ground. They are placed on low iron structures resembling goalposts. The high humidity (70 per cent to 80 per cent) and moderate temperature (32°C) required for the orchid plantation can easily be regulated inside the polyhouses.

Scientist Randhir Kumar said more than 5,000 plants can be cultivated in a garden of 500sqm area. The cost of setting up a polyhouse garden is around Rs 450 to Rs 450 per sqm.

“The overall cost of developing a polyhouse is between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 4 lakh. But farmers can get around 90 per cent subsidy from the state government under Bihar Bhagwani Mission,” the scientist added.

Besides the flowers, leafy vegetables and root crops like potatoes, carrots and radishes can also be cultivated below the iron posts.

“Water and fertilisers can be supplied to the plants through fogging,” Kumar said.

Fogging is a method of spraying substance less than 50 micro metres.

Farmers have already started to visit the poly houses at the university to pick up the means of cultivating the exotic flowers. Their hopes are not unfounded, claims scientist Kumar. “There is quite a potential for marketing orchids in cities and abroad. Orchids have a good market in Bangkok. Flowers are exported from Guwahati, Gangtok and Calcutta. It is used for decorative purposes at homes and also events like marriages and festivals,” he said.

In Patna, one has to shell out Rs 50 for an orchid. They are usually available in a bouquet of a dozen.

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