Nurseries in Sikkim, Darjeeling wilt as lockdown hits king of orchids

The emergency measure went underway when production of the Cymbidium was at its peak.March and April are the peak season for Cymbidium cultivation and also the end of its harvesting season.
An orchid nursery in Sikkim.(HT PHOTO)
An orchid nursery in Sikkim.(HT PHOTO)
Updated on Apr 15, 2020 09:28 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Siliguri | By

The Cymbidium is known as the king of orchids, the most elegant, expensive and sought-after among all variants of the exotic plant. For the nurseries of Sikkim and the Darjeeling hills, the plant is a lucrative source of revenue, much in demand as an adornment in corporate lounges and luxury hotel foyers, at weddings and other galas.

A single stem of the Cymbidium retails for as much as 700 in Indian metros.In recent weeks, in the aftermath of the lockdown for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) that started on March 25, nurseries in the Himalayan region throwing the flowers away.

The emergency measure went underway when production of the Cymbidium was at its peak.March and April are the peak season for Cymbidium cultivation and also the end of its harvesting season. Almost half the annual production is harvested in these two months. Flower farmers stopped harvesting the flowering plant when the lockdown began.

“The only option for us is to cut the flowering stems and throw them away,” said Prakash Chettri, marketing manager of Mainaam Garden at Namchi in Sikkim.

“The plants have to be maintained and for this we have to cut the stems. But neither can we transport these nor can we take so many flowers home. We have dumped thousands of flowers.”

The flower farm is owned by Tika Maya Chamling, wife of former chief minister Pawan Chamling. It is the largest orchid farm in Asia with around 100 employees and an annual turnover of 5 crore, said Chhetri.

The farm, spread across 20 acres, had been hoping to sell around 150,000 Cymbidium stems this year. It sold around 100,000 stems in 2019.

“Cymbidium orchids are the most sought after at star hotels, at big parties, weddings and government programmes around the world,” said Chamling.

“Though tropical and temperate varieties of orchids are comparatively cheaper and grown in a lot of places, Sikkim and Darjeeling hills, which have cold and humid climatic conditions, account for more than 90% of the best varieties in the country. Cymbidium is the most expensive among these,” she said.

Many nursery owners in the Darjeeling hills started growing the Cymbidium because of potentially huge demand for the flower both at home and overseas. The lockdown has dashed their hopes.

Chamling said, “Russia recently placed orders with Mainaam Gardens for 300,000 Cymbidium stems every month. Although we have 500,000 of 300 varieties, it was impossible for us to meet this demand. There is an annual demand for 5 million Cymbidium stems in India against which only 150,000 to 200,000 can be produced.”

With an eye on the market, many nursery owners in the hills of Sikkim and Darjeeling started growing the Cymbidium.

Bhaskar Mukhia, owner of Mukhia Nursery at Pokhriabong in Darjeeling, said, “The lockdown has shattered us. Sikkim and Darjeeling hills have the natural conditions required for {growing} these orchids. However, the lockdown has forced many farmers to throw away the flowers.”

Sunil Agarwal, chief executive officer of Darjeeling Gardens Pvt Ltd, which has its nursery in Mirik and is the largest producer of the Cymbidium in Darjeeling, said, “Fifty percent of the flowers is already wasted and we dumped another 15,000 stems.”

Prasant Choudhary, managing director of the company, said, “We sell 40 to 50 lakh worth of Cymbidiums a year. The virus attack has devastated us.”

Hundreds of independent growers sell their produce through Mainaam Garden and Darjeeling Gardens Pvt Ltd.Their plight is worse.

Sikkim’s agriculture and horticulture minister LN Nepal said “We have taken the matter seriously and are trying to find ways to compensate the orchid growers.”


    I am working with Hindustan Times since 2001 and am posted in Siliguri, West Bengal, as Principal Correspondent. I have been regularly covering vast area of northern parts of West Bengal, Sikkim and parts of Nepal and Bhutan.

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