The pandemic has resulted in devastating losses for the floriculture industry in India. The back-to-back lockdowns left thousands of farmers unable to tend their farms.
Floriculture typically yields a higher return than traditional crops. Till 2018-19, there was a robust, almost 20% growth pattern, with a market value of close to ₹19,000 crore. That said, it should be noted that flowers are also a highly perishable product, with as much as 15% reduction in daily value.
The lack of a cold supply-chain via air and road during the lockdowns led to a debilitating halt in distribution and a loss of over 90% in both the domestically traded, as well as imported flowers. Unlike fruit and vegetable farms, floral farms are not considered essential services and neither are they protected under the PM KISAN scheme. If there was state support in the form of subsidies and disability loans to farmers, at the very least they would be able to maintain infrastructure and mitigate future losses – not to mention contribute to boost the economy by way of exports.
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The export of Indian flowers in 2018-19 was close to ₹571 crore. With systemic support, there is no reason why this figure cannot be increased and capitalise on the supply gap from other countries like South Africa to large consumer markets like the US and the European Union. Even if the wedding and event markets have crashed locally, exports could bolster the livelihoods of those tending the 2,100-plus acres of cut flower farms in India. Additionally, a reduction or subsidy on freight charges for these exports would be a welcome incentive.
Also, the government should support and offer education on making the industry more sustainable. Plant waste could potentially be used for bio-energy, rose petals could be used for natural dying and the edible flower market could also be incentivised.
As for the retailers, most reported fewer losses in the second wave as opposed to the first, still a worrying future of roughly 60% versus 90%. Most retailers also organised themselves by piggybacking on to vegetable vendor licenses to exploit the loophole of non-essentials as supply was less of an issue than last year. However, there is still a systemic problem of no real fixed MRP, leading to acrimony between growers and traders that eventually leaves the consumer at the short end of the stick with inconsistent quality. Regularisation and more support to help organise the horticultural sector as a whole would reduce these inconsistencies and streamline processes much better.
Though some floral businesses have now reopened, the problems concerning logistics, wavering supply and uncertain demand persist. Some growers are yet to revert back to their pre-covid-19 production levels due to manpower migration, making it hard for wholesalers to satisfy once-normal demands and maintain firm inventory control. Imported produce is still not regular, and cold supply-chain and transport are still an issue in non-Metro cities. To overcome these issues, many have successfully pivoted strategies to manage inventory better by working on pre-order models and focused their sale efforts on app (or phone-based order models), as opposed to walk-ins at traditional brick-&-mortar establishments. Few and delved into the home subscription models to try and get some semblance of consistency in revenue.
All in all, it will take a good year or more to get back to pre-pandemic numbers. This is, of course, assuming that there's no third wave. If the wedding season for early next year resumes with some normalcy, it will help boost the lack-lustre season we project to have this festive season due to restrictions on the number of people at gatherings. Meanwhile, the only silver lining I see is that we are going to be forced to be more sustainable by buying and growing more local produce than before, which would be a wonderful thing.
Nazneen Jehangir is the founder of Libellule Florals.