Nepal's 'Flowering' Industry

Features Issue 16 Aug, 2010
Text by Siddharth Lama / Photo: Ashesh Rajbansh

Around 6500 different species of flowering plants grow in Nepal of which 700 species  are medicinal and 315 species are endemic.It is not unusual therefore that flowers should be a part of the daily lives of people here as for so they have long they have been used here in daily rituals and auspicious ceremonies. However, flowers used for social occasions as in other cultures like in the west were not until recently a part of the urban culture here. Tourist and nature lovers do get to see many of Nepal's floral riches in spring, and other flowering seasons, if they venture out into nature, but the practice of selling cut flowers is a trend that picked up from the urban type whose preference it often is to bring nature in - instead of going out to see it.

So how and when did the floriculture industry start in Nepal?
Prior to 1990, there were a number of nurseries within the valley as well as a few outside that cultivated flowers, but the trend then was more towards producing potted plants, seeds, bulbs and suchlike. There was no large market for cut flowers of the variety available now, in part because there was very little demand due to a lack of market exposure to cut flowers. People in Kathmandu just did not use them on a regular basis. According to nursery owners, there was at that time only a small demand amongst the expatriate community and amongst the Indian community. On November 15 1992 however, the Floriculture Association of Nepal or FAN was formed, and this marked the beginning of the floriculture industry in Nepal.

FAN was formed by 11 nursery owners with the objective of promoting and enhancing the floriculture industry and the emergence of flowers in the Katmandu market can in fact be attributed to the training in flower arrangement that FAN conducted in 1993. Following this training, they initiated the opening of a wholesale market and the support FAN gave to the organization 'Women in Floriculture' project enabled several entrepreneurs to set up flower retail outlets. This supply driven demand resulted in flowers being made available in the market and the market responded by taking up this supply. Business has since improved as demonstrated by the change in demand from around 100 rose stems a day in 1992 to 3000 stems in 2003 and from 100 gladiolus stems  in 1992 to 6000 in 2003. Figures from FAN put the total sale of cut flowers at 10 million in 1992, which went up to 70.2 million in 2003.

The domestic market for cut flowers is in fact increasing according to Suresh Bhakta Shrestha of Standard Nursery in Bansbari. He says that in 1993 150 thousand Nepali Rupees was the total turnover for all the shops that sold flowers in Kathmandu. This figure is now around 80 to a 100 thousand Rupees per month per shop! Latest figures also suggest that there are there are currently around 300 nurseries and 40 retail shops within the Kathmandu valley. This information suggests that floriculture has grown very rapidly and that the flower culture here continues to grow.

Basanti Pradhan, Secretary General of FAN, feels that floriculture will in the future provide employment opportunities that would rival the carpet and tourism industry in terms of income generation per head of labor. According to the data she has, nurseries, besides employing the family involved in it, also employ 3 to 60 members full time along with a large number of seasonal workers. This business is labor intensive and thus, in her opinion, a good industry to have here in Nepal.

With growth in production and varieties of flowers, specialization is also occurring in the market now and once that happens, the quality of flowers is expected to improve and then perhaps Nepal will be able to compete in the open market. Currently flowers that are cheaper than in India are flowers like Orchids, which cost between Rs. 100 to 200,  Anthuriums which are between 25-30 Rs,  Bird of Paradise at Rs. 25-30 and Gerberas at Rs. 10-15. Most flowers are cheaper in India because producers there get subsidies from the government such as a 50% subsidy on refrigeration trucks, 25% on freight, tax holidays etc. Such incentives do not exist in Nepal as the government is not geared towards recognizing this industry.

Meanwhile, the advantage that Nepal has over other places in producing flowers is that this place has many climatic zones spread over shorter distances and thus, in theory, Nepal should be suitable for growing all sorts of flowers. Labor cost is also lower here and production can be close to distribution and transport areas reducing transportation and storage costs.

Most flowers in the local market are grown in and around Kathmandu, and during the winters, are grown in the Terai in Jhapa, Chitwan, Pokhara for cultivation. Monsoons are a problem here though and despite the various climatic zones, commercial flower production is often not possible the year through as  high investment is required for artificial climate control. This, along with a long gestation period for investments in this sector means that so far, most of the business is carried out on a small scale. Most producers in Nepal are also not trained enough in floriculture resulting in low productivity and under exploitation of resources. The other difficulties faced here are in technical know how and the fact that airfreight capacity is also low, as is cold storage unavailable.

Despite all these problems 90% of flowers currently in the market are locally produced, whereas earlier, 90% of cut flowers in the market came from India and only around 10 % were produced here. The export markets where Nepali grown flowers have been are Korea, Japan and Europe, and specialization down the road might lead to quality improvement that could lead to further specialization and eventual business advantages.

As of now, gladiola and roses are the bulk of business but flowers that are also commercially grown in Nepal are the tuberoses, gerbera, anthurium, bird of paradise, lilium, dahlia, carnations, lilies, orchids and azaleas, besides a host of other species not commercially sold now. Other varieties are expected to pick up in the future, as the market gets more aware and sophisticated. Last year, 2 crore Rupees of exports were made to markets like Japan, Holland, Germany and USA but this is still a small figure compared to the potential. Or so feel the nursery owners in Nepal.

Still, the floriculture business has lent a splash of color to the city and to the lives of people who buy and sell flowers. It's a boon to eyes assailed by grim sights and as the poet said '.. a thing of beauty is a joy forever', so it is a joy to have flowers in our lives, thanks to the floriculture industry of Nepal.