Can't connect right now! retry
pakistan
Friday Apr 10 2020
By

Will flower industry survive the pandemic?

By

This year’s mid-Shaban wasn’t the same for 30-year-old florist Junaid Siraj, who tied the knot recently and runs his small flower kiosk at Gulberg Chowrangi.

He earns at least Rs40,000 just on the eve of the 15th day of Shaban, when hundreds of thousands of people in Karachi throng graveyards, carrying with them bags of rose petals, floral grave blankets, packets of incense, candles and rosewater.

However, the global pandemic has not only disrupted this long tradition of Shab-e-Barat in the city but also the entire flower industry and its supply chain. It’s red rose and marigold season in the metropolis, but unprecedentedly, due to COVID-19, their demand has fallen to zero. Florists believe that even after Eidul Fitr, the city will have almost no supply of flowers.

The defunct Sindh Flower Welfare Association’s former finance secretary Muhammad Asrar told The News that there are hundreds of thousands of people associated with the floral business in some way. “All of them are going to be badly affected.”

Generally, said the florist Siraj, one of the Muslim sects, the Ahle Tashi, solemnise the month of Rajab the most. But after the lockdown, all of that has gone now, he added.

“After the marriage halls were shut, our sales dropped drastically, and then there was a complete lockdown,” he shared, lamenting that on the eve of 15th Shaban, when their sale reaches the year’s all-time high, they’re sitting at home. “In Ramazan we’ll surely have no or extremely less sale, even if the lockdown is lifted.”

He fears that after Eid, the city will run out of local and imported flowers altogether in the markets and their businesses will collapse. Siraj has six daily-wagers at his retail shop and he’s unable to pay any of them during the lockdown.

Flower industry

From farmers to wholesalers and retailers, the novel coronavirus pandemic has hit the entire supply chain of the flower industry hard, because the COVID-19 crisis has wilted their sales.

Leena Talpur, owner of the Talpur farms in Badin, shared with The News that since most people, particularly in Karachi, aim for weddings in November and December, they plant their flowers in August or September and harvest them by November or December.

“We were lucky in a sense that the virus has hit Pakistan in the last week of March and not January or February,” she said, adding how their season was almost at its end and they were done with their sales.

However, she said, when the emergency emerged in the city, few flowers were still coming in, but then suddenly, “all flower shops throughout the city were closed and we ended up inside our houses”. Whatever flowers they were left with were either wasted or gifted, but not sold.

She also pointed out how other farmers had already been shredding and feeding their flowers to animals even in February due to the immense economic slowdown throughout the country.

When asked how flowers are supplied to the city, she explained that contractors generally pick flowers from their farm and sell them to the wholesale market at Teen Hatti in Karachi. “Sometimes wholesalers, event planners or big brands directly collect flowers from our farm.”

Zain Shah claims to be one of the oldest flower growers in Sindh. His grandfather Syed Qamar Zaman Shah had started the business. Like Talpur, Shah also said that by the end of March, their season generally comes to an end and they start preparing for June and July for tuberoses.

“Since big event management companies aren’t taking orders, we don’t have any bookings after Eid,” he said, adding that they don’t even expect to have any booking in the current pandemic situation. “There won’t be fresh harvesting.”

Sohail has a flower farm in Murree and brings flowers all the way to Karachi by air, as there’s a huge market of flowers in the city. “All flowers have rotted. We had to waste 4,000 to 5,000 stakes of flowers,” he told The News.

Wholesalers

Flower wholesalers, especially importers, have been badly affected by the pandemic. Syed Ijlal Haider, who runs a flower shop in Karachi’s upmarket Defence Housing Authority, had his last shipment of imported flowers on March 19, a few days before the complete lockdown.

“It wasn’t a huge consignment, but it was all in loss,” he lamented. He also talked about how his business is being affected on a daily basis.

When asked about the future of the business, he shared that they’re not in a position to calculate anything, as they have to give orders at least three months before the shipment arrives. “There hasn’t been any export of flowers from foreign countries. They’re already bankrupt,” he said. He fears that after Eid, there won’t be any imported flowers at all.

Meanwhile, Talpur explained that flower growers have a list of flowers from the government that they’re allowed to grow. “Not what is not allowed,” she said. They cannot even import seeds for the flowers that aren’t allowed to be grown and that’s the reason most of the wholesalers and retailers depend on imported flowers, she added.

Thirty-five-year-old Shehzad runs a decoration shop in Manzoor Colony. “Our imported flowers alone were worth Rs70,000 that we had to destroy because of the pandemic,” he said.

Shehzad not only sells flowers but also provides decoration services in mega events of the city. “On the day of the first lockdown, I had three to four events in the city,” he said.

They’ve been incurring loss on a daily basis and fear the time when they won’t even be able to pay the workers at the shop, he added.

He shared that he had tonnes of flowers stored at the warehouse that were all wasted. He fears that after Eid, the city will have a flower shortage of more than 80 per cent, “as we will have zero import”.

The flower welfare body’s former office-bearer Asrar, who also has a wholesale flower shop at Teen Hatti and a flower farm in Gharo, shared that in the peak of their season, florists import flowers worth Rs10 million, mostly from Holland and Kenya, while “the local supply is much more than this”.

Originally published in The News