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July 16, 2020

Flower business wilts under lockdown


July 16, 2020

HYDERABAD: Flower producers seem hopeful since the government started reopening businesses after almost four months of a lockdown following the Covid-19 outbreak.

During the lockdown, only a few florists continued to buy smaller packs of fresh roses to sell in the local market.

Majeed Malah, a small-scale grower in major flower producing estate Hatri in Hyderabad suburbs, said this year, many leading traders breached their traditional contracts and left flower gardens in a lurch because of the pandemic. There was fear among all the people associated with this particular business.

Mallah said as per practice, traders paid Rs100,000 for an acre of flower products on annual contracts, bearing the cost of picking, packing and transportation. But, this year, they backed out, which impacted the florists and other associated workforce.

“Producers always keep a close eye on events and stay aware in emergencies. Thus, they dried fresh roses in fields, on open grounds and rooftops, and now were waiting to for a return to normalcy,” he said.

Fresh flowers take a day to dehydrate in summer, and five-six days in winter. “One maund of fresh flowers produces seven to eight kilogram of dried product.”

The dried product has now been piled up and producers await businesses to reopen. Mallah said preserved flowers have a value in the international market. “But due to the delay in opening of major markets and exports, farmers are facing problems, and fear that the dried product could perish,” he added.

Bungle Marri, another small-scale flower producer from the suburbs of Hyderabad, takes a small pack of four-five kilograms of fresh roses to Hyderabad market for sale every day, except when the when the market was closed under government’s restrictions to stop the spread of Covid-19. Marri’s family possesses one acre land, on which they always cultivate flowers. “When lockdown started in the mid of March, we faced difficulties, not knowing what to do. But we followed our neighbouring farmers, and spread the fresh product on the grounds for drying to sell when the market opens.”

Since the lockdown relaxed and market opened, Marri said, “I take four-five kilograms of fresh flowers for sale. The prices range from Rs30-Rs60/kg, depending on demand.”

Compared to major crops, rose varieties are considered the most profitable in terms of revenue generation. It is the only product, which is available in the market round the year.

Bungle Marri is among many farmers, who seem reluctant to cultivate major crops like cotton, wheat and sugarcane, which take four-five months for harvesting. Major crops at times do not get enough returns, especially without a government support price. Flower producers on the other hand take their produce to the market on a daily basis. Farmers said per acre product depended on the season. For example, presently, there is heat and farmers barely get four-five kilograms from one acre, which is sold at Rs40-Rs50/kg. In pleasant weather, during January, per yield is 20-22kg/acre, while from February to April, it goes up to 80-90kg/acre. April and November were the most productive in terms of yield. Specially, during winter, red flowers are healthier and more fragrant.

These dried rose petals are used in many food products like cakes and pastries, while the extract is used for home remedies and herbal medicines.

Due to the pandemic, many people associated with flower business, including picking women and those engaged in packing, loading and transportation have been facing problems. The entire workforce has been compelled to sit idle at home.

According to farmers, some traders have started visiting fields since the news that the government might ease or end the lockdown. Now, they were hoping for sales to revive. At least 500 ton of dried petals are required for shipment, which traders get from Sindh and Punjab.

Flower farmers in Sindh do not use pesticides. Therefore, these items are safe, compared to products coming from other provinces.

Flower crop has no support price, unlike other crops. Rates fluctuate anywhere between Rs40-Rs100 on a given day, depending on season and demand. Floriculturists believe that in normal days almost all the cities have a commercial demand for flowers. But now due to restrictions following the pandemic the demand of flowers has declined unpredictably.

Hyderabad and parts of Matiari, Tando Allahyar and Mirpurkhas districts are said to be the major producers of a variety of flowers. Only in Hyderabad district, growers have small and large gardens on around 9,000--10,000 acres with roses of different varieties. Many florists reportedly have been disappointed due to disturbance in the business of this sweet-scented product, which provides a source of income to village dwellers, both men and women; all of whom are now facing problems.