Flower industry wilting | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 01, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:22 AM, April 01, 2020

Flower industry wilting

If you happen to be in the southwest village Godkhali or its neighbourhood Panisara, you will find there is no dearth of colours from the stretches of rose, tuberose, marigold, gerbera and gladiolus gardens.

But the blooming beauties are now being discarded -- instead of being cherished.

The demand for flowers has screeched to a halt amid the ongoing countrywide shutdown to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus that has claimed upwards of 38,000 lives thus far globally, including five in Bangladesh.

The usual scenes of cascading garlands of flowers, busy florists and salesmen attending to flower lovers in the capital's Shahbagh area have been absent since March 26, when the government's movement control order took effect.

"We could sell even during hartals and violent political unrests. But we have never witnessed such a situation," said Md Rafiqul Islam, who has grown gerbera, gladiolus and tuberose on his 6-bigha of land.

The flower industry is only one of the many across the country facing daunting prospects as the Bangladeshi and world economies stagnate because of the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is a highly uncertain situation. Only his Almighty knows what awaits us ahead," said the 50-year farmer, who has been plucking flowers to protect the plants from pests and disease and to ensure good yields.

On average, Islam cut 2,000 sticks of gerbera daily and threw them away last week. Those would have fetched him Tk 5,000 a day.

Being a perishable item and not easy to preserve, the country's 20,000 flower farmers, including Islam, and traders, are staring at ruins.

Every day, blooms worth Tk 1.5 crore were written off since March 20, according to Babul Proshad, president of Dhaka Ful Baboshaye Kalyan Samity, an association of flower traders.

Flower cultivation first began in Bangladesh in the 80s in Panisara of Jashore district. From there, it spilled over to other districts.

Today, flowers are grown on 2,200-2300 hectares in Bangladesh, according to the Department of Agricultural Extension.

Farmers mainly cultivate nine types of flowers, including marigold, gladiolus, tuberose, rose, gerbera and chrysanthemum.

The actual data on market size is not available and guesstimates of stakeholders vary between Tk 200 crore and Tk 1,500 crore annually.

The pandemic and the accompanying economic woes came at a particularly bad time for the flower industry.

Spring is a busy time of year for florists, and they depend on the revenue coming in from Valentine's Day, national days such as the International Mother Language Day on February 21 and Independence Day on March 26 and the first day of the Bangla calendar year, Pahela Boishakh, on April 14.

"Now, all of us will be in big trouble as there will be no celebrations for Pahela Boishakh," said Fazlur Rahman, a flower farmer in Kaliganj of the western district Jhenaidaha.

Flower cultivation and trade is the main livelihoods for many farmers in Jashore, Chuadanga and Jhenaidaha districts and they will lose the mental and financial capacity to continue cultivation, according to Md Abdur Rahim, president of the Bangladesh Flower Society (BFS).

In the face of closure, Afsar Uddin, who grows flowers in Dhaka's outskirts Savar, furloughed two of his permanent workers.

"There is no other way," he said, adding that he is considering giving the workers nominal wages.

Rahim urged the government to provide support to flower growers.

"Agricultural produce like fruits and vegetables are being sold. But we are shut as flowers are considered non-essential items. The government should provide low-cost loans for us to survive."

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