Losses piling up for flower growers
Sumon Biswas cultivated roses and Gerbera daisies on four bighas of his land in Gadkhali village of Jhikorgacha upazila in Jashore district.
During the pre-pandemic era, he could earn an average of Tk 5 lakh per month.
But ever since the Covid-19 outbreak began last March, business has taken a steep dive.
"I invested Tk 4 lakh to cultivate these flowers but I was only able to sell Tk 2 lakh worth so far this year," Biswas said.
Biswas had aimed to recover the losses incurred during the initial stage of the pandemic last year.
"However, even this year has turned to losses and I cannot even go for alternative cultivation," he added.
Before the advent of Covid-19, flowers were sold across the country all year round. At the time, fresh cut flowers would be taken to Gadkhali market, where they would sell out immediately, especially on national holidays.
Wholesalers played a big role in making this happen but due to the restrictions on public movement amid a rising infection rate, few come to see the flowers.
"That's why I travel far and wide by cycle to sell my flowers but still, buyers are hard to come by," Biswas said.
Like Biswas, another 6,500 growers in Gadkhali area, known as the flower capital of Bangladesh, are being forced to travel by cycle or van to various towns and villages to sell their flowers.
Meanwhile, growers who are unable to do the same are being forced to use their flowers as food for cows and goats.
Flowers worth Tk 300 crore are grown in the country each year but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the industry has incurred serious losses, according to growers and traders.
Considering the situation, industry people have asked for low interest loans with two-year repayment tenures alongside other support from the government.
There are about 20,000 flower farmers in Bangladesh, of which about 6,000 are based in Jashore, producing a lion's share of the total demand.
Flowers have long been recognised as the main cash crop for farmers in the region but the repeated waves of coronavirus infections across the country has led to a disaster for them.
During the December-February period of fiscal 2020-21, when the Covid-19 situation had died down a bit, the demand for flowers began to recover since social events were back on.
But farmers' hopes of a turnaround in fortune was short-lived as the situation began to deteriorate again from March. After that, restrictions on public movement and recent nationwide lockdown took a toll on the industry.
Another farmer, Sher Ali Sardar, said growers started cultivating flowers again this year on their own initiative since they expected the situation would improve further.
"But its all over again because of the lockdown, I have never seen such an incident in my 42 years of flower cultivation," he said.
"As a result, flower cultivation in Gadkhali has come to a standstill and I don't know how to turn the situation around anymore," Sardar added.
During normal times, flower farmer Samzed Ali would sell roses door-to-door for about Tk 5 per piece.
"Now though, even if I sell 100 roses, I make almost nothing since 100 roses currently cost about Tk 10 in total," he said.
Similarly, other flower varieties, such as cornflower and gladiolus, used to sell for about Tk 20 each.
But since there is no trade, 100 flowers can be bought for the same amount.
"I have to work hard to run my family," Ali added.
Since the number of social gatherings, such as weddings and festivals, has dropped drastically amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it goes without saying that there is not much opportunity to sell flowers, according to farmer Abdus Salam.
"I am forced to take a ferry into towns or rural markets to sell flowers but even then no one wants to buy," he said, adding that he ends up feeding them to his cows and goats.
Badal Chandra Biswas, deputy director of the Department of Agricultural Extension in Jashore, said about 625 hectares of land across six unions of the district were being used for commercial flower production.
"The region houses 6,500 flower farmers while there are about one lakh workers who are indirectly involved in floriculture here," he added.
Abdur Rahim, president of Bangladesh Flower Society, said Jashore caters to about 60 or 70 per cent of the country's demand for flowers.
"About Tk 500 crore worth of flowers were lost in five months of last year and three months of this year due to the coronavirus pandemic," Rahim added.
Of this, at least Tk 300 crore has been lost in the Jashore region.
So far, 300 farmers have been given loans of around Tk 2 crore, he said.
Against this backdrop, Rahim urged the government to allow social events to take place in accordance with the health safety rules as well as increase the incentives for florists.