The flower industry has already lost an estimated $8.5 billion due to the coronavirus.
Coronavirus is not only proving fatal for people but its impact has also sucked the life of the flower industry around the world, as lockdown measures have turned major cities into ghost towns.
As the deadly virus spread, it came with its own rules. Social distancing, grounded flights, shuttered hotels and restaurants, it has also nibbled away at spending power and destroyed the sales of flower markets, among others. From Ecuador to Kenya and the Netherlands, the world's major flower distributors have fallen on hard times.
Tanfer Celik, a Turkish florist, who runs Ecuador Florist in Istanbul’s Uskudar district, is one of the small-scale business owners fighting to survive under the perfect storm of the pandemic.
“The business has badly dropped in our best season, when people get married and organise other large gatherings. 70 percent of my business is gone,” Celik told TRT World, estimating similar losses for other florists across the country.
Major losses are also happening in other places like the Netherlands’ famous flower auction sites, where an average day used to see more than 100,000 transactions.
On March 16, Royal FloraHolland, a Dutch cooperative, which runs most of the country’s auctions including the biggest one in Aalsmeer, has seen its “blackest day” ever. Like Celik’s 70 percent losses, rose prices in the auctions dropped to €0.07 (8¢) a stem that day, which translates to a 70 percent loss from their price a year earlier.
According to recent estimates, the industry’s worldwide losses could amount to more than $8.5 billion.
The European country is the heart of global flower business as it accounted for more than 40 percent of the world’s flower exportsuntil the emergence of the pandemic.
But things have profoundly changed with the deadly virus in the Netherlands and other places.
Due to lockdown measures, many wedding houses have been closed and people are also not going out for shopping, fearing for their lives, Celik explains.
“People are not going out. When they don’t go out, they are not consuming anything. Because there is no consumption, the suppliers are not willing to produce anything. As a result, none of us are able to conduct our business,” Celik summarised the vicious cycle of the country’s flower sector.
“People don’t want to bring anything to their houses from outside. They fear to buy anything other than food,” Celik observes.
Major distributors from Kenya to the Netherlands have been reportedly left with no other option than dumping their flowers in the absence of customers as people continue to cancel their weddings, ceremonies and other events with large gatherings.
In Naaldwijk, where Royal FloraHolland runs one of its auction sites, florists were tortured by scenes of dumping, which took one and a half weeks, according to one of the Dutch exporters. The cooperative estimates to have more than $2 billion in losses.
Just in March, about 400 million flowers, including 140 million tulip stems were destroyed by Dutch producers, according to the cooperative.
Despite enormous pressure under the pandemic, 36-year-old Celik continues to open his shop, unlike many others. He has applied for a government loan programme, which has been introduced by Ankara to reduce losses of small-scale business owners like him.
“Without support from the state, we can not survive,” says Celik, who has been in this business for more than ten years, assessing his business prospects in a realistic mood.
Celik’s future mother-in-law is also in the flower business, with a nursery in Istanbul’s Sile district. She suffers from similar problems.
She could not buy flowers directly from places like Yalova, a beautiful city in the Marmara region across Istanbul, which is one of the major flower distributors alongside Adana, Antalya and Mersin, all Mediterranean coastal cities located in southern Turkey.
If the pandemic’s pressure on the flower sector continues for more than two months, most of the florists will just go for closures, Celik estimates.
“In the last 45 days, most of the florists in Istanbul were not open. I just try to be self-sufficient by keeping my shop open. But I also stopped making any payments to my debtors,” Celik says.
Celik buys most of his flowers from Istanbul’s Samandira flower auction. But some of his flowers are also coming from other countries like Ecuador, Kenya and the Netherlands.
However, it is becoming difficult to bring flowers to Turkey from outside because imports are also stopped under the pandemic measures, he says.
Against all odds, Celik believes that with the possible end of the pandemic, people will rush to get married and stage other long-overdue gatherings they were missing so much, which could see a boom for the flower sector.
“I hope that when the business opens up again, our sector will boom like a pressed balloon explodes,” he says.