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March 31, 2020

Florists scramble to preserve flowers as uncertainty looms over business


March 31, 2020

HYDERABAD: Flower growers in Sindh are in a lurch, as their contractors have broken agreements suddenly in the midst of the lockdown after the covid-19 pandemic.

Bangul Mari, a small-scale farmer from village Gulbahar Mari, union council Barchani, Hyderabad, said traditionally, traders signed an annual contract with growers of native roses to buy their entire crop at Rs42/kg from the field. Many growers allot their fields to contractors at an even lower amount.

However, after the lockdown, contractors have broken their deals with growers and refused to buy the crop from farmers due to lack of storage facilities. “In this situation, we do no not have any option other than drying flowers on our rooftops at home or in the fields, till the return of normalcy,” Mari said.

“Some local traders are buying fresh flowers at low rates of Rs8-Rs10/kg. But, since growers have already spent huge cost, including chemical input, farmyard manure, diesel for extracting underground water through tube wells and labour, they are frustrated,” he added.

Hyderabad district, besides producing a variety of roses, also grows wheat, fodder grasses, and fruits, providing a visitor with a picturesque view. However, the recent global health crisis has created problems for the flower producers and halted the business of traders and others associated with this field.

Sindh produces various varieties of flowers, like marigold, desi gulab (native rose), tuberose, glendora, jasmine, tulip and della. Small producers pick 15-20kg of roses daily, to sell at Hyderabad’s famous ‘Phool Market’ (flower market) for Rs38-Rs40/kg. When the market is good, they might get Rs100-Rs150/kg.

Now all the roads leading to the markets have been closed, and producers themselves have been restricted to stay at home. Farmers, producing flowers for generations, said that during January, yield of rose drops to 22-25kg/acre, while from February to April, it always goes up to 80-90kg/acre. April and November are the most productive in terms of yield.

The farmers were expecting to earn enough during the current month of March, but sudden lockdown has created problems for them. Majeed Mallah, a flower grower and trader said all the people associated with this work were stuck up because of complete lockdown. “In this situation, drying flowers is the only option for growers to preserve the perishable commodity.”

He also said in the past, it was common to preserve the leftover crop of roses by drying out on rooftops and in open fields, but with increasing demand, this practice fell out of tradition. “Now, many producers need to learn how to preserve the roses to maintain the colour and scent,” he added.

This sector attracts small farmers Demand for fresh flowers exists in local markets as well as major cities, which attracts small scale farmers. The flower business is lucrative for producers, labour, and traders at all levels.

Farmers, who have developed small-scale rose gardens earn a daily income, as compared to those depending on cotton, wheat, sugarcane, which take six-seven months for ripening and harvesting. Thus, they cannot wait for long to receive their share in shape of grains and cash.

It is an attractive cash crop for growers, who have spare pieces of family land on which they can establish flower gardens. Hyderabad connects to major cities of the country through trains and road network, providing access to producers to supply their roses to Karachi, Punjab, and major cities of other provinces.

The major flower producing zones include, Hyderabad, parts of Matiari, Tando Allahyar, Mirpurkhas districts, Thatta, and Karachi's Malir and Gadap. Desi gulab is the only variety that comes to market on a daily basis.

In Hyderabad district, roses are being grown in both big and small gardens. Largest rose gardens of different varieties are spread on around 9,000-10,000 acres.

Leading traders in flower products, who used to buy around 8,000-10,000kg daily for drying at warehouses, are also facing problems due to the lockdown. Traditionally, they hired experienced labour with knowledge about export quality grades and packing standards.

Flower trade has ground to a halt, which is also affected the attached industries and workforce. Sindh has a booming flower business, and traditional florists, apart from selling in local markets, also preserve the products to export to international markets. It takes five to six days for the process during winter, while in summer one day is enough to dehydrate the petals.

However, again as uncertainty looms over due to the fear following the global health crisis, growers cannot keep the preserved products for a long time.