A nascent floriculture industry in India is cashing in on growing demand for roses overseas. Anjana Pasricha has a report from New Delhi.
It was just over a decade ago that a handful of entrepreneurs began to cultivate roses commercially in southern India, encouraged by the warm climate and a booming market for flowers worldwide.
Those investments have paid dividends. About 50 farms along a "floral corridor" between the southern cities of Hosur and Bangalore exported as many as 15 million red roses ahead of Valentine's Day earlier this month.
The head of the South Indian Floriculture Association, Najeeb Ahmed, says India's share of the world rose market is still tiny. But he says the country is making its presence felt in countries stretching from Australia and Japan to Britain and Germany.
"Indian quality of roses is as competitive in world market as roses from any other country like Africa, Ecuador, Colombia," he said. "We can grow roses round the year without artificial heating, lighting and cooling systems, and with abundant availability of manpower - this industry requires a lot of manpower, and we are able to meet these requirements."
It is not just overseas markets that are driving the demand for roses. The domestic market is also booming, as younger people begin to celebrate events such as Valentine's Day with enthusiasm, encouraged by expanding middle class incomes and growing Western influence. Buying flowers for other occasions is also gaining in popularity in big cities.
The blossoming industry is encouraging floriculture companies to expand overseas. Last October, India's largest grower of roses, Karuturi Networks, purchased the world's largest rose producer - a Kenyan business, for $72 million. Kenya leads the world in rose cultivation.
Prasanna Pai, Karuturi's chief financial officer says business is soaring.
"This Valentine's Day has been very good for us. Compared to last year we have shipped four times the quantity we did last year," said Prasanna Pai.
Indian rose exports added up to approximately $80 million last year. Industry experts estimate that floriculture is expanding by more than 25 percent a year.