Roses and red blood: Volatile villages keep fragrance of flowers alive

Roses, marigold, jasmines, carnations being grown in city’s outskirts

Farmers cultivate fields to grow flowers in village near Bara. PHOTOS: HIDAYAT KHAN/ EXPRESS


At a time when the fragrance of roses and carnations is beginning to fade away in the city of flowers, farmers on outskirts of Peshawar have managed to keep things abloom.

A large number of floriculturists in Suleman Khel, Bazid Khel and Shahab Khel are growing a variety of flowers which are also exported to other cities.

These villages are situated near Bara. This area was once the hub of militants and cases of kidnapping for ransom and extortion surface on a regular basis. Many residents have participated in encounters against banned groups – shedding some red alongside beds of roses. And yet, their green thumbs tend to flowers, perhaps depicting a lighter kind of passion.

Flowering amid chaos

“We still grow flowers and supply it to markets in Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Lahore,” says Mohabat Khan.

A gardener by profession, Mohabat cultivates several acres of lands to grow flowers. Roses are his mainstay.

“My flowers require fewer pesticides,” he says. “They have a strong fragrance and have a certain charm and delicacy as compared to other farmers in the area.”

Not even skin deep : City of faux flowers

He adds, “Flowers are the main crop of all three villages. However, the region remains particularly dangerous as people from the cities find it hard to access it.”  According to Mohabat, militancy and personal enmities among residents have made it difficult for outsiders to enter the region.

Nevertheless, the farmer continues to grow shabo (carnations), marigold, jasmines, among other flowers, on three acres of land. He has set aside two acres of land just for his precious roses.

Nip it in the bud

Peshawar was once known as the city of flowers. Citing Mughal emperor Babur’s memoir Tuzk-e-Babri, historian Dr Salahuddin says when the ruler entered the area near Peshawar, he saw flowers everywhere. “He was certainly referring to Tehkal – an area of the city that is now covered with buildings,” he adds.

For those who can remember the city’s not-so-distant past, it was surrounded by flower orchards. The areas where the K-P Assembly and other government buildings now stand was once covered with blossoming flowers of all colours and sizes. However, flowers in urban centres have now withered away while rural parts of the city have managed to preserve the profitable beauty.

Farmers in Bazid Khel claim villagers started growing flowers in the late 1970s. A majority of them used to focus on producing vegetables.

As the trend caught on, the three villages managed to monopolise the entire market and crop cultivation has increased on an annual basis.

Currently, Ramdas Bazaar is the only market where flowers are sold. Every morning, farmers from the three villages bring an assortment of buds and blossoms to the market on tongas. Dealers purchase and sell them at centres in Qissa Khwani, Saddar, Tehkal Payan and Board Bazaar.

Not a bed of roses

Mukhtiar Khan, another floriculturist, tells The Express Tribune the entire process can be expensive.  It costs him Rs8,000 to cultivate a shabo orchard. This includes purchase of seeds, the cost of hiring labourers and transportation.

He adds everything depends on whether dealers decide to purchase the flowers.

“Sometime, growers end up leaving flowers as no one is willing to buy them,” he says.

Breath of fresh air: District government, WSSP seek to revive city of flowers

According to Mukhtiar, researchers should try to introduce quality seeds which can improve output so floriculturists and farmers can expand their business.

He says once flowers are in bloom, they are collected from the field by the farmers, women and children weave them into garlands and other products. More often than not, children transport them to the market as most men are unable to go to the city due to
personal enmities.

“We need support from the government. We are the largest growers of flowers in the province.  If the government provide us support, we can export them to other parts of the country,” says Mukhtiar. “Yes, we can still make Peshawar the city of flowers.” However, the government seems content with plastic; leaving Peshawar a city where fake flowers adorn flyovers.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 26th,  2015.


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