The farmers’ market at Tiruvallur caters to over 50 per cent of Chennai’s ornamental needs

From miles away, the enchanting fragrance of fresh flowers fills the air. Go a bit further and you will encounter the sight of acre upon acre covered with a dazzling array of flowers — jasmine, firecrackers flower (kanagambaram), marigold (samandi) and country roses.

Here in Tiruvallur district, nearly 20 km away from Chennai, are grown over 50 per cent of the flowers sold in Chennai. And the nerve centre of this activity is the 10-year-old flower market, the only one of the nearly 20 farmers' markets in the city where only flowers are sold.

Of the nearly 50-60 tonnes of flowers sold at Koyambedu wholesale market daily, nearly 20-30 tonnes come from the Tiruvallur flower market. The 45 shops in the market also cater to the needs of neighbouring districts such as Kancheepuram and Vellore in addition to meeting local demand. Over 5,000 kg of flowers is sold every day. At the Tiruvallur market, the price of flowers is at least 15 per cent less than in other retail outlets, said M. Lepaksheeswar, deputy director of Agriculture (Tiruvallur). “The market here is located at a very convenient location. It is very close to the railway station and bus terminus, Hence it is very convenient for wholesalers to transport the flowers in bulk,” said 58-year-old S. Parthasarathy, who has been cultivating marigold and jasmine for nearly two decades.

Mr. Parthasarathy's village Morur, is one among the nearly 60 villages which supply flowers to the market. The village and others such as Manjakuppam, Movur, Morur Kandigai, Monnvedu, Monnavedupettai, Othapai, Krishnapuram, Rangaravam, Venkatapuram, Velammakandigai, and Thiruvalankadu form the nerve centre of flower cultivation.

Most of these villages are located within a radius of 5 km of the market. Farmers hold only small tracts of land that stretch between three and seven hectares. Many of these families engage in flower cultivation as it is far more viable than the cultivation of paddy which requires large tracts of land and substantial irrigation facilities. Flowers, on the other hand, can be grown profitably in fields as small as an acre in size. They can also be grown throughout the year and in all types of a soil. It also does not require much labour, making it an ideal crop for small farmers, said cultivators.

In many of these villages, the cultivation of flowers is a family affair. Children rush off to the fields in the morning, often before the sun rises, in order to pick up flowers while they are still fresh, and then, head off to school. The farmers then sort the flowers and hurry to the market as customers are very picky about choosing only the freshest of flowers. Jasmine particularly, is preferred only if the flower has not bloomed yet.

Of the 80 species of jasmine found in the country only three species — madurai malli, mullai and pitchi — are commercially cultivated. While the first two are sold fresh, the third is used for perfumes.

However, the changing times have not been kind of the farmers. Today, around 200 hectares of farmland is under cultivation, a huge decline from the nearly 350 hectares in 1996. Farmers cited poor rainfall and the impact of pests for the declinein the area under cultivation.

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