An additional source of income for women salt workers in Vedaranyam
Vedaranyam is one of the major salt producing areas in India. Households in the villages around salt pan primarily work as salt workers, followed by fishing and agriculture. Most of the women from these villages earn their livelihood mainly by working as wage laborers in salt pans. During the lean season of salt production (October to January-north east monsoon season), the salt workers generally take advance from their respective salt pan owners or from money lenders for their financial requirements. However, most of the women headed households are denied any advance from the salt pan owners and invariably borrow money from the money lenders at a high rate of interest. In this scenario, floriculture was taken-up with the support of the ICZM project as one of the additional sources of income generation activities for the poor women salt workers of Adhivasi colony, Kovilan Kollai, and Poovanthoppu villages to meet their expenditure during the lean season of salt production.
Series of meetings held with Village Development Council members and focus group discussions with women salt workers paved way to start floriculture as an economic enterprise. These meetings and discussions also helped to identify women who would actively participate in floriculture. Women headed households and other women from a very poor economic background were given preference. Women unable to earn through salt pan work or any other economic activity were also included. Village Development Councils of the respective villages selected 23 women from Adhivasi Colony, 21 from Kovilan Kollai and 30 from Poovanthopu for the floriculture activity. Women were grouped into ‘flower growers group’ with separate office bearers and records. The office bearers consist of the president, secretary, and treasurer who essentially manage group activities, organizing marketing of flowers, depositing the amount in the bank and distributing the earnings to women on monthly basis. The flower growers groups took 1.30 acre of land in Adivasi colony, 2 acres in Kovilan Kovilan Kollai and 3 acres in Poovanthoppu on a long-term lease.
Selection of species for floriculture
The soil and water tests conducted in the land leased for floriculture revealed that the area is saline and water for irrigation is also scarce. In consultation with the horticulturists, drought and saline tolerant (moderate) Nerium and jasmine were selected for cultivation. In addition, these flowers could be plucked in the evenings as buds and could be sent to market after processing. Nerium produces flowers throughout the year while Jasmine produces maximum during summer.
Exposure visits were organized for the women groups to Dindugal and Rameswaram where several households are involved in jasmine cultivation. These visits provided knowledge on the cultivating of flower crops and motivated the women to take up cultivation. Initially, most of the women had little/no knowledge of agriculture/horticulture. Interaction with farmers growing these flowers and visit farms not only gave confidence but also encouraged the women to initiate cultivation. Experienced farmers from Dindugal visited the farms of the women salt workers in the initial period at regular intervals to guide and train them in cultivation practices and harvesting. When there was wastage of flowers in the initial days due to lack of knowledge about harvesting methods, farmers from Dindigul educated the right harvesting methods after which there was a significant reduction in wastage.
Land preparation and planting
Land preparation was done with the machines and labor from the members involved in floriculture. Costs of preparation of land, fencing, bunding, planting and other inputs were borne by the project while women who participated in the intervention bore the labor cost. Organic manure like vermicompost, green manure, and Pancha Kavya was used in the cultivation. Coconut coir piths were used to minimize the water loss and to retain soil moisture and also protecting the roots from sunlight. The flower growers groups procured Nerium stem cuttings in Kodai Road near Dindigul and jasmine saplings from the farmers in Rameshwaram. The prepared land was divided into rows with 12 feet of distance between them. Nerium was planted in half of the land and in the rest, jasmine was planted. In the initial period vegetables such as brinjal, cluster beans, lady’s finger were cultivated in the space available between two rows. However, now it is discontinued as the plants grew big and started to yield flowers. In Adivasi Colony and in Kovilankollai irrigation facility from wells with electric motors was established. Women group members have been managing to water the plants. Women and their household members manage their individual planting area by weeding them on time, watering the crop, applying fertilizer and carrying out other crop management practices.
Flower production and marketing
Harvesting of flowers in Kovilan Kollai was started in May 2014 and Adivasi Colony from June 2014. Nerium flowers are harvested on a daily basis throughout the year. Initially, the flowers were sold to local retailers and now it is sold to wholesale flower merchants because of higher supply.
The Cost-Benefit Analysis of Nerium and jasmine flower cultivation was calculated using A1 method (i.e., including all paid-out costs). Profits earned from the cultivation of Nerium and jasmine in Aadivasi colony and Kovilankollai were impressive at Rs.1,26,048 per annum per acre and Rs.1,02,131 per annum per acre for the year 2014-15. A break-even analysis indicated that Aadivasi Colony and Kovilankollai attained their break even points [BEP i.e., (Revenue – Variable Cost)/Profit] in one year 5 months and two years respectively. This analysis clearly indicates that the initiative is one of the successful initiatives and has enormous potential for replication.