VFS microfinance customer at her plant nursery

Rina Khatun

Nursery owner could find herself selling cut-flowers

Forced to stay at home by the COVID19 lockdowns, many urban dwellers have found solace in their balcony gardens. So plant nurseries, exempted from lockdown restrictions, should be doing great business, right?

Wrong. If the nursery is far from the buyers and customers can’t reach it (the government has also taken public transport off the roads).

Rina Khatun’s nursery at Umedpur village near Bibirhat in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district is one such. Located over 25km from Kolkata, her nursery, which sits on seven cottahs, was doing well until the lockdowns.

“The first lockdown did not hit us as badly as the current one,” says Rina, “as it began in end-March and was lifted in June. The 2021 lockdown began in the flowering season. “This time, we may have to sell the flowers instead of seedlings and plants,” Rina says.

Rina, 28, and her husband Sk Asraf Ali had inherited the business from Asraf’s father. Asraf, 37, a master’s in history, makes some money by giving home tuitions to children in the neighbourhood. Rina, who is a Class 12 pass, and Asraf have no children.

The couple toils an average of six hours a day looking after the nursery, which offers seedlings of chrysanthemums (Chandra Mallikas), marigold, and rose, among others. The market favourite is the bougainvillaea plant. Their customers are mainly wholesalers who supply markets in Kolkata, and also retailers. Their village has more than 20 nurseries, but they help each other instead of competing.

Rina had taken the first loan from the Bibirhat branch of Village Financial Services seven years ago. She is now in her seventh cycle, having taken the last loan in February 2020. But then, no one had imagined the pandemic or the lockdowns, the first of which was announced in March 2020. She uses the money to buy medicines and bonemeal, mustard oil cake and neem cake—all organic manure—for the plants.

They sell the plants for Rs 2-5 each (the chrysanthemums), and Rs 35-40 each for the dahlias, marigold and roses. The bougainvillaea is the costliest, ranging from Rs 250-300 a plant.

Published on Jun 18, 2021 | Updated on Apr 13, 2022