As the floriculture business wilts under the weight of the Coronavirus lockdown, florists and traders tell us why it's nothing like what they've seen before
Kaka Pingale, 48, has been in the business of floriculture since 2003 and has weathered many a storm over the years. But he doesn't remember a time as mortifying as now. "The last time we saw business plummet was during demonetisation, in 2016. But, it was nothing compared to what we are facing at the moment," says Pingale, who runs a flower farm in Maharastra's Inglun village, and supplies tulips, roses, carnations and gerberas across the country. For those involved in the trade, profits peak between Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. This year, however, the Coronavirus outbreak and the ensuing nation-wide lockdown have blunted operations. "From a 50 lakh-worth business, we have been reduced to zero," he says. His savings are helping him sustain his workers. But it's getting difficult with each passing day.
Unsurprisingly, the global floral industry is also experiencing a pandemic-induced collapse. "The expected losses from COVID-19 to the global flower industry are five billion pounds," says Hari Subramanium, founder of bespoke flower company, La Fleur. For Subramanium, the problems emerged in the first week of March with export orders being trimmed and local demand in India drying up. "We had good orders for Mother's Day in the UK on March 23, but some were cancelled and partly not shipped due to logistical issues resulting from restrictions on international flights," he says. His team was compelled to dump the roses, chrysanthemums and lilies as there was no market in the foreseeable future. "Farmers who had planted lilies and chrysanthemums for the wedding season which falls in April and May, have dumped their stock and continue to do so as harvesting cannot be stopped or delayed," he says.
La Fleur closed all operations at its retail outlets in Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Hyderabad early March owing to increasing difficulty in getting the product to the marketplace. The brand has 72 outlets in four cities, with monthly sales in excess of R35 lakh. "This year, April and May had a lot of wedding muhurats and most growers and traders would have booked 50 per cent of their yearly profits during this time. Instead, they were left with tonnes of flowers that had to be turned to compost," he adds.
Anchal Arora runs JUNE 8, a floral retail store at Carter Road in Bandra, and has been in the business for 15 years. She says summers are particularly challenging given the limited variety of flowers produced locally. "It's the reason why we are largely dependent on imports from Holland. But with cancellation of flights, we have incurred huge losses. For many, it's between R10 lakh-R70 lakh," she says. Exotic varieties such as hypericum berries, cala lillies, proteas and cimbodiums have a longer vase life than indigenous varieties, provided they are kept in cold storage. Subramaniam, who has also invested in solid cold storage facilities, says an efficient cold chain can help roses and lilies last up to two weeks and chrysanthemums up to four weeks. "Although there's uncertainty at the moment, we are trying to support the labour force in our best capacity," says Arora.
Sonal Shah, who owns Bageecha at Kemps Corner, managed to sell flowers until the lockdown was announced. The unsold flowers, she gave away. "I identified a few clients within a walkable distance and distributed them because if I'm not able to sell, someone might as well enjoy them."
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