Crowned with roses and bathed in the aroma of love for floriculture, the picturesque Shivalik foothills seem to be from the latest Valentine’s Day release. The uneven dirt track to a farmhouse on the lands of Kangar and Mailia villages in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district on the Himachal Pradesh border is a drive through paradise.
In these tragic times for agriculture in the Green Revolution belt of Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh, the power to smell an opportunity has taken farmers Maninder Pal Singh Riar and Manjeet Singh Toor out of the wheat-paddy rut. Roses from their farm go into the commercial production of rose oil and rosewater, and are offered to the gods and goddesses of Chintpurni and Jwalamukhi in Himachal Pradesh.
Even in the early 1990s, Riar and Toor, then in their twenties, had sensed the future trouble with growing wheat and paddy, in spite of the minimum support price (MSP). “So we bought some land in the foothills and moved in. The soil was full of mountain cobble but virgin and fertile, best suited to growing flowers,” both said in chorus.
Toor hails from Bhawanigarh in Patiala district and Riar from Jalandhar, where their families are still into conventional agriculture. Their neatly kept farmhouse and mowed half-acre lawns amid seasonal flowers, shrubs, vines, and fruit-laden papaya trees is a sign that they enjoy their work.
“We started with growing amla (Indian gooseberry) to process it into pickle and sauce, but within two years, moved to growing roses,” said Toor. Before beginning to cultivate rose on their 25 acres, both took three-month training from the Institute of Himalayan Biotechnology (IHBT) in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, where their picked up how to plant roses and distil the extract for rose oil and rosewater. The IHBT’s hybrid variety of Bulgaria native Rosa Damascena suited our soil environment,” said Riar, adding: “The horticulture experts like what we have done with it.”
Riar, a graduate from the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, Canada, put the skills picked from the course into rose cultivation. “We now look beyond cultivation, to venture into selling extract. We can’t disclose the plans yet but it’ll be a fresh in the field of agriculture, which is going to benefit the farming community in a big way,” he said, accepting that their processing methods are still primitive.
A few thorns
It took the two partners four years (from 1996 to 2000) to develop an Indian rose acceptable to the indigenous rose oil and rosewater market. “The industry imported most of the roses and extract earlier from Bulgaria,” said Riar.
“We worked hard to convince people in the industry that Indian rose, the Hoshiarpur-grown variety especially, matches Bulgarian standards,” said Toor. For about three years, they exported rose oil and rosewater to a French company in New York. “It did not work for a long, since our client wanted a fixed quantity, which due to the fluctuation in production here, we had to sell on the Indian market, with no different economics,” he said.
Two of a kind
The tag team grows two varieties of the flower — the red Rosa Bourboniana that gives flower all year, and the pink Rosa Damascena that flowers for six week in March-April. Growing over 4 acres, Rosa Bourboniana is plucked every day and sent to the Chintpurni temple in Una and the Jwalaji shrine in Kangra, where devotees buy them as offering. In June-July, the demand hits a peak of 80 kilogram a day, and rest of the year, it is 40 to 60 kg. A bus carries the flowers to Hoshiarpur, from where these are shipped to the two temples.
“At one time, we were the largest rose growers in the region with 60 acres under cultivation (which now has come down to about 25 acres), so the managements of the two shrines approached us for the flowers and we jumped at the offer. What could be more auspicious,” said Riar. Riar and Toor rotate the crop between fields to maintain soil fertility. After 12-odd years, a fresh field is prepared. Organic wheat and basmati take the place of roses, for consumption by family and friends.
The extract of Rosa Damascena goes into making rose oils and rosewater for cosmetic purposes. “We grow this variety over 18 acres. We extract both rose oil and rosewater and sell these products on open market in Delhi, which further exports these to foreign perfume manufacturers,” said Riar.
The best time to pluck roses, says Riar is either dawn or before the sunset, when the flowers give maximum aroma, which fades during the day. The rose extracts are tested at the fragrance and flavour development centre (FFDC) of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) laboratory in Bengaluru.
Rosewater and rose oil are distilled in an indigenously designed plant at the farmhouse. It came up in late 1990s and its capacity was increased later. The IHBT helped design and install it, and the cost was `40 lakh.
For about a year on 2.5 acres, the farming partners are is carrying out trials on tuberose, perennial variety of the flower and an important ingredient of perfumes and cosmetic products. “We make ‘tuberose concrete’ for perfume companies,” said Toor.
Rose cultivation is labour intensive. Rosa Bourboniana, especially, requires daily plucking. The Hoshiarpur farm has nearly 35 people working round the clock. They earn Rs 250 per day each.
Rs 40,000 plantation cost per acre, once in 10 to 12 years (includes cost of yearly input, pruning, green manure, DAP)
Red, almost perennial variety (goes without flower from November to January)
20 kg per acre plucked every day
Rs 60/kg selling price
Needs more labour and manure input than non-perennial varieties
Pink, non-perennial variety (flowers for six week in March-April)
800-1,000 kg/acre yield per year
5,000 kg makes 1 kg rose oil (selling price `5-6 lakh)
Rs 80,000-1 lakh per acre net earnings per year
Read earlier parts of the series