When Kathmandu used to be known for its hippy-era flower children, the few blossoms that could be found grew wild, along hedges and the sides of paddy fields. They were collected and strung into garlands to adorn deities and people during festivities.
Today, the city has switched to flower bouquets wrapped in plastic. And it is the spread of this new fad that is feeding the blooming industry. Where and how the business took is hard to tell, but florists trace it to five years ago when some Nepali and Indian entrepreneurs stumbled on the market almost by chance.
"Competition has increased, but so has the market. If planned properly, the flower business can reach any height," says Jyoti Pradhan of Women in Floriculture (WIF), a group of five women entrepreneurs who got into the business in 1996.
In four years, the business has blossomed, and they manage a monthly turnover of more than Rs 50,000. The most popular varieties are gladiolus, rose, tube rose, "zerbera", lily, carnation and orchid. Business has grown so fast that WIF now grows its own flowers in nurseries in Narayanghat and Khaireni. Their clients now include five-star hotels.
Ruku Basu of Topha Gift Shop is enthusiastic about the potential of the flower business. "There is profit here, the flowers move very quickly," she says. Basu\'s shop is only one year old, and her flowers are outselling cosmetics.
She has now contracted a Kirtipur farmer to grow special flower varieties exclusively for her in the coming year. "If only we could offer more varieties," Basu says, sizing up Kathmandu\'s vast untapped flower business possibilities.
Sunil Tamang of Daffodil Flowers adds that assured year-round supply is a must for business growth. "I got opportunities to work for big hotel clients but failed to satisfy their demands throughout the year and lost the business," he says.Tamang now depends on daily customers for business, which limits his profit potential. During the flower season, monthly business hits Rs 120,000, and dips to half that in the lean winter months.
Prasant Manna came to Kathmandu from Calcutta to start a cut flower shop at Tripureswor four years ago. Today, he owns three such shops and business is growing beyond his wildest imagination.
In order to overcome the supply problem, some Indian shops like Manna\'s import flowers from South India in the winter with a precarious supply line that runs across 2,000 km. But Tamang and Pradhan tap the semi-tropical lowland valleys around Kathmandu where flowers bloom even in winter.
Kathmandu may soon be able to meet its cut flower demand through the wholesale market managed by the Floriculture Association of Nepal.