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Lab-to-land floriculture scheme blooms in Kerala


Vinson Kurian

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, Sept. 5

THE success of a pioneering initiative for ``empowering poor rural women through recourse to a gainful floriculture programme'' in Thiruvananthapuram has encouraged the two principal players -- a local scientific research institution and an NGO, with sup port from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) -- to think of replicating the same in other parts of Kerala and outside.

The floriculture project involves implementation of a lab-to-land programme with appropriate linkages between the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI), an autonomous research and development institution under the Kerala Government, the Federation of Indian Floriculturists (FIF), an NGO, and the educated and poor unemployed women in select villages around Thiruvananthapuram.

It involves micropropagation-based production of planting materials of commercially important orchids and anthuriums at TBGRI and FIF, ``hardening'' of the same before transfer to beneficiary households, overall supervision and training by TBGRI and buy- back of flowers by FIF from the beneficiaries for a ``living price''. FIF subsequently sells the flowers in Mumbai, Delhi and other places which offer a ready market for these flowers.

Launched in 1998, this ``tissue culture-based floriculture programme for self-employment and income generation of economically weaker women'' has proved ``an instant success'' that TBGRI and FIF are proposing to expand the programme by setting up women's cooperatives in each district of Kerala.

``The beauty of the project is that it has succeeded where most of the 50-odd similar schemes, launched during 1996-97 with much fanfare in both the corporate and Government sectors, have floundered,'' according to Dr S. Seeni, Deputy Director, TBGRI, an d Principal Investigator with the project. It was one of Dr Seeni's papers, presented at a floriculture seminar in 1998 at Sikkim, that invited DBT's attention and culminated in the grant of required funds.

Giving details, Dr Seeni and Prof Ninan Thomas, President, FIF, told Business Line that the agroclimatic conditions --high annual rainfall and humidity, moderate temperatures etc-- seen in Kerala are most conducive for exotic flower crops such as orchids and anthuriums. The rich top soil, abundant sunshine, small land-holding capacity of an average farmer, easy access to soft water and raw materials such as leaf mold and coconut husk and, above all, the large number of educated unemployed youth, also wo rk in favour of the high value-low volume flower crops in the State.

TBGRI has developed appropriate micropropagation protocols for large-scale multiplication of orchids and anthuriums and packages for their field cultivation. FIF, a nodal agency for implementing floriculture projects within the State, has got the necessa ry expertise and experience in transferring the lab-derived products and processes for grassroots-level applications among village communities and for organising training programmes and seminars.

In the collaborative project, the micropropagation technologies and packages developed by TBGRI is utilised to produce plants and transferring the same to FIF for ``hardening'' and onward distribution to identified beneficiaries belonging to the weaker s ections. The beneficiaries have been able to realise returns right from the third year of the project, earning around Rs 1,000 per month which is expected to double by the fifth year.

``We began training women from six rural villages in and around Thiruvananthapuram. We admitted 25 at a time for a one-week-long training programme on how to handle tissue culture plants, how to harden them, and then cultivate, water and tender them - a ll of which were put in a nutshell and given as a package. We got the local panchayat to identify the beneficiaries. The economic criteria and other enabling norms apart, the general disposition of the subjects to the vocation was also taken into conside ration.''

``We supplied 500 plants each, the cost of which at the blooming stage might add up to more than a lakh of rupees. But, none of the beneficiaries would like to jump the gun and sell the matured plants because they know the plants and the blooms can multi ply in number. The plants would produce additional suckers which can be separated and put in different pots from which new plants can be raised,'' Dr Seeni said.

Hardening is the process in which the tissue-culture plants, after having been weaned away from controlled conditions under which they are grown in the lab, are made to come to terms with the ambient conditions obtaining outside. The plants are put in su itable parting media and provided with ``misting'' to avoid excessive loss of water vapour for a period of two to three weeks at the end of which almost 95 per cent of them they would have got established to be able to grow in outside environs.

The process of hardening holds particular relevance for anthuriums, which are more delicate than orchids. Additionally, an FIF survey has shown that anthuriums are more sought after than orchids in the market because of which the federation has decided t o focus more on them in the future programmes.

Picture: Mr P. Vijayakumar, Prof Ninan Thomas and Dr S. Seeni at the FIF "Florihouse" in Thiruvananthapuram.

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