Cultural programmes and weddings have become rare these days due to social distancing and restriction on public gathering. The absence of these events has knocked the bottom out of Shahbagh’s flower market
It was a quiet afternoon when Ahsan Chowdhury came to the flower market in Shahbagh. He came all the way from Rampura to buy fresh flowers for a marriage ceremony.
"It will be a small gathering of only family members. The bride's mother is critically ill and her dying wish is to see her daughter getting married," Ahsan shared with this correspondent.
Ahsan is a rare customer at the Shahbagh flower market during the Covid-19 situation.
Cultural and social programmes, as well as weddings, have become rare these days due to social distancing and restriction on public gathering.
The absence of these events has knocked the bottom out of Shahbagh's flower market.
Mohammad Kuddus is a staff at "Phultola Flower Shop". He opened the shop on May 31, the day when shutdown was eased and public transports were allowed to move.
Every day, Kuddus and the other staff put varieties of rose, tuberose, gladiolus, dahlia and other flowers on display. But customers do not visit their shop like before.
While talking to The Business Standard, Kuddus said that on average, they would sell flowers worth Tk15,000 every day. During peak season, mainly from December to April, their sales increase fourfold. Now, their everyday sales is around Tk2,000.
"Before the shutdown, there was a huge demand for flowers for wedding decoration, car decoration, ornaments for the bride and groom, etc. Now people are mostly buying roses, flower bouquets and marigold garlands," said Kuddus.
The retail flower shops in Shahbagh are now worried about the future of their businesses.
Unless the pandemic goes away, events or programmes are unlikely to take place and this uncertainty is taking a toll on livelihoods of shop owners and staff.
Abul Kalam, owner of "Anika Pushpo Bitan" and president of the "Shahbagh Battala Khudra Phool Byaboshayi Samity" said that only eight out of 51 shops are open at the moment.
He claimed that although the shops were closed for more than two months, none of the samity members received any relief from the government.
"The flower that we would buy at Tk5, the same flower we are now buying at 80 paisa," said Abul Kalam, adding that they are selling at a cheaper rate as well.
"We cannot make you understand how shop owners and their workers are surviving. If this situation continues, we will have to shut down the market," he added.
Flower farmers and businessmen eagerly wait for the peak season which usually begins from December 16, Victory Day.
From then on, a series of special days come, including the English New Year, Pahela Phalgun, Valentine's Day, International Mother Language Day, Independence Day and Pahela Baishakh. Added to these are the usual winter and spring weddings.
"Every year, keeping these occasions in mind, the Tk1,500 crore worth cut-flower market in the country takes huge preparations. Around 60 percent of flowers in Bangladesh are produced and sold targeting these occasions. The rest 40 percent are sold during other times," said Abdur Rahim, president of Bangladesh Flower Society, the apex body of cut-flower businessmen.
He said that this year farmers also prepared for March 17, the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Abdur Rahim further said that on account of low sales, flower supply at the two major wholesale markets in Dhaka has come down to 20 or 30 percent.
With the drop in demand, the price of flowers has also nosedived.
On a good day, before the shutdown and social distancing rules were imposed, wholesalers would sell 100 tuberoses for Tk400-1000.
But now, they are selling 100 tuberoses for Tk100. Each flower is being sold at Tk1, sometimes less.
100 roses would usually be sold at Tk250-300 but now they are being sold at Tk70-80. The price of other flowers is also quite low.
The wholesale flower industry in Dhaka includes nearly 300 wholesalers at the Shahbagh and Agargoan flower market and all of them are facing hardship due to the pandemic.
According to Abdur Rahim, nearly 20,000 farmers cultivate flowers on approximately 6,000 hectare of land across the country.
"The demand for flowers has fallen to such an extent that many farmers are feeding their livestock with flowers while some farmers are simply discarding them," he said.