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Horticulture is not FarmVille

 
Horticulture is not for city slickers who wish to give up their desk jobs and pick up the spade, all in the hope of finding a more ‘enriching life’ and readying the patch for the much vaunted agro-boom of the future. One has to realize that agribusiness is still business. And it is daily, dirty work says M Purushottam Reddy of Swamy Nursery and Florist, one of South India’s leading grower and wholesaler of plants.

A different game

Putting it bluntly, Reddy says: “A lot of people who have tried to make a shift from corporate offices to farms have failed miserably. While the idea is quite noble, dealing with labour on a daily basis and getting the farms bustling with plants takes more than planning and resources. It takes experience – the kind where the owner fits all roles with alacrity. Shovel if you have to. Dig if you have to.”

A lot of toil, and still some more…

Ours is a country of farmers we are repeatedly told. Yet, fatalistic thinking permeates Indian society regarding agriculture as a profitable and enriching life activity. There must be some truth to it.

The government and the wider economic setup can be routinely blamed, but the situation still cannot be mitigated. Working within limitations and making full use of opportunities is of essence.

“There are a lot of issues. For example, water is a scarce resource; we try to work around shortages by implementing drip irrigation, rain water harvesting or by tapping groundwater. With no real help forthcoming from the powers that be, the onus is on the grower to learn and implement these methods. Technology likewise, can be used as in Israel, to make green patches out of desert land but then don’t expect our government to take the initiative” says Reddy.

…and that is just the growth phase

The business has grown on average 15 percent per year, showing great growth in the past decade or so. Despite consistent demand, established businesses like Swamy Nursing and Florist still encounter a lot of obstacles in their bid to find scale and grow.

Bank loans are not that easy to get, labour shortages have become order of the day, confused policymaking continues to stymie demand, exports are not expedited, and polluted environs are a caveat set in stone.

Reddy talks about how short-sighted government planning has made a disconsolate mess of what was a manageable aspect - labour.

“The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is a prime example of vote politics muddying economic sensibilities. While it is commendable to institute a work guarantee regime, it does not make any economic sense to keep an entire workforce partly idle and unavailable for other works. This has a negative effect on labour-intensive businesses like ours. Likewise, wages have gone through the roof and still do not guarantee consistent worker turnout.

“There is a lot of demand. I can see through full production and still not satisfy it. But, labour shortages mean I am basically underserving. It is difficult to do business this way.”

A day on the farm

The challenge of running large farms is daunting it seems, but the satisfaction quotient remains high. For Reddy nursing these plants is a passion first.

A world in itself, the Swamy facility has greenhouses interspersed between shaded areas, staff quarters, compost dumps, unending rows of bagged saplings, buzzing insects, a rich blend of earthy smells, and even soft relaxing music sounding out to the plants and workers around. A sense of calm reigns here.

Reddy himself lives on the farm. He likes to tend to every detail. In fact, his whole family including his parents, two brothers and their spouses are all involved in the day-to-day operation of the facility. Most of the food they consume is produced on their farms.

Modern technology exists alongside with age-old rigor here.

Workers are like extended family. Food and accommodation is provided free of cost. A medical emergency could throw things off balance; the whole farm comes to a still. There is a sense of ownership among everyone.

There are good ideas and they come to fruition quick. Like the 90,000cu-ft groundwater replenisher pit that has become a counter-measure to the increasingly scarce water supply. Or the internally self-sufficient composting process that helps the business save on input costs for organic farming.

About Swamy Nursery and Florist

Located in Ballur in the Anekal Taluk of Karnataka and situated close to the TVS Motors factory near Hosur. Facilities are spread over 35 acres. Workforce consists of 75.

Swamy Nursery and Florist grows and stocks over 1,800 varieties including flowering, ornamental, fruit, cacti, medicinal, aromatic, aquatic varities.

Started by Purushottam's father Muni Reddy in 1975, Swamy Nursery and Florist has become a major wholesaler catering to various state and central government agencies, NGOs, horticulturists, nurseries, landscape projects, corporates along with the walk-in public.

Contact

Swamy Nursery and Florist: Ballur, Attibele (Post), Anekal (Taluk), Bangalore South - 562 107, Karnataka. Phone: 08110-650226. E-Mail: swamynursery (at) sify.com