In dozens of villages adjacent to the forests in Jharkhand’s Khunti district, which was identified as a Naxal-affected area, the sound of guns used to echo continuously and the smell of gunpowder spread in the atmosphere, terrifying the people. Opium was also cultivated on a large scale in these remote areas.
But this is a thing of the past. For the past two-three years, the area has been smelling of flowers and lemongrass. This year, marigold flowers have been cultivated in more than 269 acres and lemongrass in about 50 acres in the entire district.
The most important thing is that in most of the villages, women farmers are leading this cultivation. The flowers of their gardens were sold in many cities including Ranchi, Khunti, Jamshedpur this Diwali, Kali Puja and Govardhan Puja. Now in view of the Chhath festival, there is a good demand for flowers for decoration from ghats to homes.
As there are a series of festivals like Guru Parv, Christmas, New Year and also the wedding season ahead, these farmers are hopeful that the bumper sale of flowers will earn them good money. From providing seeds and plants for flower cultivation to taking the produced crop to the market, the state government agencies are helping the farmers.
In the markets of Jharkhand, earlier the demand for flowers in the festive season was met from West Bengal. Now it is the opposite. Businessmen from West Bengal, Bihar and Karnataka now take flowers from here. It is estimated that this year the farmers here will do a business in flowers of over Rs 1 crore.
Local journalist Ajay Sharma said “The cultivation of flowers in Khunti was first started in 2004 by two women of Hitutola. They cultivated an area of about two acres and made good profits from it. As the effect of Naxalite terror subsided, gradually a large number of women were inspired to take up floriculture. The Jharkhand State Rural Livelihood Mission and voluntary organization Pradan helped them a lot by teaching them the methods of flower cultivation.”
“Plants were provided to them. The women showed great enthusiasm. This year, about 45 villages of Khunti district’s four blocks Khunti, Murhu, Torpa and Adki have grown flowers. More than 1200 women are engaged in this. Pradan has provided about 17 lakh plants of marigold flowers this year. With the help of the Jharkhand State Rural Livelihood Mission, about 400 women farmers are involved in flower farming this year,” Ajay Sharma stated.
Aarti Devi, a resident of Loagara village belonging to Laxmi Aajeevika Sakhi Mandal, had cultivated flowers on about 1 acre of land last year. “Before this, we did not get so much cash money from the cultivation of any crop,” she said.
Khunti Deputy Commissioner Shashi Ranjan said, “These women of Khunti block are an example of self-employment. In different blocks of Khunti, Sakhi Mandals have cultivated marigold flowers on about 260 acres of land. Rural women have been encouraged by the demand for flowers during the festive season.”
Khunti district, spread over 2535 square kilometres, came into existence on September 12, 2007. Since the formation of the district, more than 150 people have been killed in Naxal attacks here. Dozens of people were killed every year in attacks by Maoists as well as banned outfit PLFI. For the last few years, the effort to change the identity of this violence-hit district has been launched. Floriculture is the hallmark of this change.