South Africa might be home to one of Earth’s richest flower kingdoms, but as Covid-19’s second wave washes over the country, its pressurised flower industry is struggling to keep up with demand.
With more than 35 000 coronavirus deaths, the R260 million- local floriculture market simply cannot keep up with orders for funeral bouquets and wreaths for graves. Although they might not have necessarily met those who succumbed to the deadly virus, flower growers, florists and wholesalers play a crucial role in their final goodbyes.
Also, a grim hike in flower prices due to the overwhelming demand has crept up on florists and wholesalers who are dependent on local farms for their supplies.
With level 3 restrictions on funerals, the impact on the industry has been agonising, says Ansen Lamprecht, a fresh-flower wholesaler and owner of Ansen Flowers in Pretoria.
“One of my big customers in Cape Town said on Thursday last week alone they had to do 45 coffin sprays (the flower arrangement that goes on top of coffins). You know how much that is for one flower company to do in one day? It is astronomical,” he stresses.
Frustrated and overworked
A further disheartening picture is painted by a Western Cape florist who was approached for comment by Food For Mzansi. “Very busy! We are doing 20 funerals. I mean, every day there is a funeral that we are busy with. Our challenge is not to get sick,” she scolded, adding that she didn’t have time to speak to the media.
Efforts to contact other florists in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal were met with similar responses with another florist saying he was “severely understaffed and drowning in funeral flower arrangement requests.”
In 2009, researchers Cecelia Bester, Riana Kleynhans and Louisa Blomerus from the Agricultural Research Council valued sales on the local flower farming market at R260 million while the export revenue amounted to approximately R371 million in 2005.
Their findings, published in Acta Horticulturae, found that the Cape Floral Kingdom alone contains more plant species than the whole of Europe. With its more than 8 500 different flowering species, it is considered one of the six major floral kingdoms of the world. Yet, in the wake of the pandemic, fresh-cut flowers remain expensive.
Meeting the needs of bereaved families struck by Covid-19 has left the flower industry in uncharted waters, says Jannie Du Toit, social spokesperson for the South African Flower Union in the Western Cape.
“At the moment, we are struggling to get flowers. There are more funerals than we have been accustomed to. Little flower shops and small flower businesses have been side-lined as first preference is given to wholesalers,” Du Toit laments.
Covid-19 has been a traumatising stumbling block, Lamprecht adds. The industry is scarred, he says, citing flower farmers’ fears of wasted produce as a direct cause of the supply crisis.
“As flower producers, we must plant for the future and you have to guess what people will need in the future. But now, before the first lockdown last year, the farmers had to throw away so many (flowers) during the hard lockdown. We were not allowed to sell flowers (initially). They have (since) become hesitant to plant.”
The result has been a spike in prices, putting financial pressure on consumers.
“People tell you (to) put a few cheap flowers in (wreaths and bouquets), like Chrysanthemums or sprays. Now you must say to them, ‘No Ma’am, Chrysanthemums are too expensive,” Lamprecht says.
“It is abnormal for us (as flower traders) to pay R50 for a bunch of Chrysanthemums on the market, but that is what they are going for at the moment.”
At the time of publishing this article, Food For Mzansi confirmed that a bunch of Chrysanthemums with more or less 20 stems are sold online for between R140 and R360, including delivery. Coffin wreaths and sprays cost up to R1 500 each.
Lamprecht describes the second wave of Covid-19 in South Africa as a rude awakening. We are in a crisis, he says, and it is imperative that everyone adheres to the lockdown rules and regulations.
“This is not a joke. Previously, we didn’t really take note of it, but now it is unlikely that you do not know anyone who has had the virus, has the virus or who has died from the virus.”