The Financial Express [FRONT PAGE][ECONOMY]

Sunday, June 22 1997

Cultivate taste, bonsai and make your pile

Aanchal Arora

New Delhi: Looking for a place to invest those extra bucks? Then how about a fast developing industry with increasing domestic demand and tremendous export potential ? It can be your hobby too, if you like pottering around. Well, Bonsai is the answer.

Renu Vaish, President of the Indian Bonsai Association (IBA), an independent organisation imparting awareness about bonsai, says," the growing demand for bonsai is clearly indicated by the fact that IBA which started off with only 15 members a few years ago, can now boast of a membership above 150."

Bonsai are living trees which are dwarfed by a system of pruning and training roots and branches to get desirable shape and sizes with the help of horticulture techniques, perfected through centuries. In other words, a miniature specimen of a tree, a hereditary dwarf, size ranging between two inches and three feet, is developed under controlled growth conditions.

The most interesting fact about bonsai is the direct proportionality between the age and the cost of the tree. A bonsai can live for several decades with a rising price tag. The price can go up as high as Rs 50,000. Depending upon the age and shape of the dwarfed tree, as times price can cross the upper limit.

The chunk of the domestic demand for bonsai emanates from the higher strata, where it is increasingly assuming the image of `a status symbol'. Atul Vashisth of Samak Farms and Nurseries, one of the biggest nurseries in North India says, "bonsai is more of an art form which if tapped in a viable manner can reap rich dividends."

Vashisth feels that domestic market is showing an uptrend. The future is promising with new developing techniques, growing awareness and tremendous export potential.

A M Khan owner of Rajdhani nursery says," Ten per cent of my turnover comes from the sale of bonsai". While other fully-grown plants fetch only a few hundred rupees, a five-year old bonsai has a starting price of Rs 10,000 and can go a lot higher".

But this industry too, is not devoid of its share of problems. First, the infrastructural shortfalls are a major hindrance for bonsai growth which require specific growth conditions. Atul Vashisth says ,"due to the climatic uncertainty and wide fluctuations it becomes almost imperative to grow bonsai in greenhouses which in turn requires proper irrigation and power supply - poor supply of both has been a perennial problem."

Second, the gestation period in getting the returns is too long. Any bonsai requires a minimum of two years of nurturing and it's only after that its price starts rising. Says Khan: " Despite the potential, banks and other loan giving organisations consider plants a high risk with late returns. As a result, the substantial investment which can encourage us to look beyond the domestic market, is not materialising."

Atul Vashisth says, "we get some subsidies for floriculture from APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority) but there are no such subsidies granted to promote the growth of bonsai due to which only a few nursery owners have ventured into proper marketing of bonsai."

The result: Most of the nurseries supply only the base material for the bonsai and don't market it because it requires special training to grow and becomes profitable only after a few years". Another problem is high air freight charges which not only constrains the overseas trade of bonsai but inter-state transportation within the country. A possible silver lining is the rising overseas demand.

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.



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