Thursday, May 6

West Bengal: Flowers fight back pollution, bloom under LED lights

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Desperate times call for desperate measures. In the farms of Panskura, Pakuria and Khirai, which send ornamental flowers like chrysanthemum and karen to the rest of the country and abroad, the desperation shows in the form of thousands of LED bulbs that light up the fields at night.

Farmers, bitten by pollution and smog that stunt the growth of these plants, have now started protecting them by covering them up during the day for some time during their growth cycle. The innovation follows from here: thousands of LED bulbs are switched on during the night to give the plants artificial, “day-like” light to compensate for its lack during the daytime cover-up.

“Over the past few years, the quality of flowers was poor and most weren’t even surviving till full bloom no matter how good the pesticide or the manure. Then we learnt from peer groups how air pollution and smog were harming the plants. We learnt that covering the flowers at the budding stage and using artificial lights would lead to better growth,” said Ranjit Dolai, a farmer who is a Botany graduate from a college in Tamluk.

Dolai and his fellow flower growers then shifted to a new method of farming: they strung up rows of 9Watt LED bulbs across their fields and kept these switched on from sunset till dawn for 7-10 days during the budding stage. At sunrise, the buds were covered with translucent sheets to stop them from getting coated with grime.

“The plants showed stunted growth when we kept the lights on at night. But once this was discontinued, they grew at triple the speed resulting in a far better harvest,” said Dolai, adding that not only was he able to doubled production last year, the quality of his chrysanthemums was also very good.

Fellow farmers, Asit Karan and Manas Jana, too benefited hugely from the shift. “We are now getting bulk orders from Hyderabad and Bangalore and exporting our flowers to other countries. Three years back, our business was floundering, now suddenly things have changed,” said Karan, a farmer at Paschim Polla village.

‘Perfect balance must between periods of light and darkness’

Botanists said the process made perfect sense as excessive pollution often choke the pores leading to stunted growth in ornamental flowers. “Due to air pollution, dust and smog cover the leaf blades reducing light penetration that ultimately blocks the stomata. The rate of photosynthesis falls and the plants either wilt or have stunted growth,” said Tapan Kumar Maity, associate dean at Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vishwavidyalaya (BCKV).

Madhumita Mitra Sarkar, professor in the department of Floriculture and Landscape Architecture at BCKV explained the new method: “By exposing the plant to a continuous phase of light even at dusk they are enhancing the process of photosynthesis, which means the plant cooks way more food than it can cook only from the sunlight it receives in the morning. With the process being repeated over a period of days, the plant gets engaged in cooking and storing the food and then when the lights are suddenly cut off, the plant grows at a very fast rate with enough nutrition for a good quality produce.” She, however, added that while following the process, the farmers must maintain a perfect balance between the periods of light and darkness.

The clever use of lights has aroused curiosity among a large section of horticulturists and botanists in Kolkata. “I would like to know more about the process and watch in person how the farmers are using lights for better production of flowers,” said Basant Kumar Singh, a senior botanist at the Botanical Survey of India.

Meanwhile, the new method of farming has turned the villages here into tourist spots. During winter, when thousands of lights are switched on at night, the fields are a sight to behold. “During the December-January picnic season, hundreds of cars line up on the road after dusk just to watch the illuminated fields,” said Tatun Jana, who has been practising the new method of farming for the past two years.


Source: Times of India

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