Farmers stack roses at a garden in Shadullapur, Savar. Farmers here have found flower cultivation more profitable than vegetable farming. Photo: Sohel Parvez
The sun blazes down on the thickening greenery in Shadullapur, a quiet village in Savar.
Home yards with vegetables and native trees are covered with roses in full bloom, in gestures to greet a newcomer with love and good wishes.
To an onlooker, it may appear that these gardens were developed out of a hobby of landscaping. But that would be far from it.
“It is simply for business. We grow flowers, which is more profitable than farming vegetables,” said Mohammad Nazimuddin, a farmer at Shadullapur.
The gardens lay quiet during the wee hours of the morning. But as the sun shines brighter, the gardens are abuzz with gardeners plucking flowers that are to be sold at dawn the next day in Dhaka.
Every dawn, these farmers load the flowers, mainly roses and gladiolus, onto about five minibuses and head for Dhaka.
Such a practice expanded in Shadullapur of Savar as a growing number of farmers joined floriculture to profit from the rising urban demand for flowers on celebrations, such as weddings, parties and moments with loved ones.
Nazim expanded the area he allocates to flower farming by eight times to 240 decimals since the time he began in 1992. Each day, he plucks nearly 1,500 roses from his field and earns between Tk 1,500-2,500 depending on the supply-demand situation.
The net profit, according to the 45-year old, stands at nearly Tk 1,000 a day.
“Initially, only a handful of farmers grew flowers for sale. But in the course of time, many farmers shifted to floriculture from vegetables, encouraged by higher profitability,” he said.
The high margins also lured thousands of other farmers in other parts of the country to shift to floriculture.
According to flower traders and agriculturists, flowers are being grown in about 20 districts, such as Jessore, Jhenidah, Chuadanga, Bogra, Rangpur, Dhaka, Manikganj, Narayanganj, Gazipur, Mymensingh, Chittagong and Sylhet.
Official data on flower cultivation is not available, as official agencies do not compile national level data on floriculture.
But traders and floriculturist say flowers are being grown on about 5,000-10,000 hectares.
“Flower cultivation is expanding by 10 percent a year because farmers are making high profits amid rising demand,” said Babul Proshad, president of the flower traders' body, Dhaka Ful Baboshayee Kalyan Samity.
According to traders, farmers in these areas are growing several different flowers, such as roses, tuberoses, marigolds and gerberas, of which, roses, gladioluses, marigolds and tuberoses are produced at greater quantities locally while gerberas, orchids, carnations and liliums are imported to meet domestic demand.
Almost all flowers arrive at Shahbagh and Khamarbari in Dhaka everyday to reach consumers.
The flower trade has also created other areas of trade, including nurseries, transport service providers, wholesalers, middlemen and flower retailers, and garland and ribbon makers, creating jobs for many, especially poor women.
“Two decades ago, we sold flowers worth Tk 30,000-40,000 a day. Today we sell flowers worth Tk 20-25 lakh a day,” said Babul. “Once, only the well-off bought flowers to colour festivals. Now, even the low to mid income groups love to present flowers on beautiful moments.”
According to traders, the yearly domestic market for flowers, which has sprung over time amid a steady rise in per capita income and consumption, now stands at about Tk 100 crore.
However, a bulk of the retail value goes to middlemen, as a majority of farmers sell their produce to wholesale representatives in their localities.
On April 25, farmers at major floriculture zone of Godkhali in Jhikorgacha, Jessore, had to sell a rose at Tk 0.50-0.60, much below the retail price of Tk 3.
Insiders blamed factors, such as a low quantity of production by individual farmers and a long distance away from the main wholesale market of Dhaka, as reasons behind the low prices at farmer levels.
In addition, a lack of an availability of quality seeds, inadequate knowledge on production and post harvest management practices, such as preservation, also act as bottlenecks for farmers.
In addition, traders, especially wholesalers, face losses due to inappropriate packaging and an absence of cool transportation systems.
“We lose a portion of production because of a deterioration in the quality for poor packaging and lack of proper transportation,” said Md Russel Uddin, a flower wholesaler, who buys flowers from farmers at Gadkhali through a local representative.
Floriculturists and traders said problems in production, harvesting, packaging and transportation are dampening the prospects of flower exports, although Bangladesh has the potential to gain from floriculture due to its favourable agro-climate.
Government support to encourage extension of floriculture is also lacking, insiders said.
“The present cultivation practices, post harvest management practices and transportation systems are old and need to be upgraded, to tap the global flower market,” said Dr Kabita Anzu-Man-Ara, senior scientific officer of Floriculture Division of Horticulture Research Centre (HRC) of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute.
Despite all the difficulties, flower cultivation is paying off for farmers.
“It was difficult to run my household with earnings from vegetable cultivation. But after I started to grow flowers, I am in a much better situation,” said Abdul Latif, a small flower grower at Shadullapur, Savar.
“I lived in a mud house prior to entering floriculture. Today, I live in a tin-shed building.”