As macabre as it sounds, funerals may be the only thing helping South Africa’s flower industry survive after the Covid-19 pandemic set in motion a slew of challenges lasting to this day.
The pandemic interrupted supply chains and caused demand to dry up amid national lockdowns in 2020.
Gairoenisa Oliver, a flower seller at the Trafalgar Place Flower Market in Adderley Street in Cape Town says that funerals might be the saving grace preventing them from shutting their doors.
The latest challenge to arrive is the fuel price increase that came into effect on 1 August, sinking the traders at the market into debt as they struggle to stay afloat.
“We are barely surviving. We need to travel to town from our homes. We have to go get our flowers from the airport and that requires petrol. The state of the economy is not helping us either, because people would rather buy food than buy flowers. Flowers are a luxury while [people] are trying to survive,” she says.
Oliver shares that since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, business has decreased while expenses have increased. “The price of flowers that we usually get from the Multi Flora Flower Market in Johannesburg has tripled.”
In order to survive now, they take in business from mostly funerals and, less often, religious ceremonies such as Janazah.”
“There are a lot of funerals now and we never thought flowers would become so popular. But we don’t make a profit from those sales because the prices of flowers are increasing daily. How must we manage to survive?
“Flower sellers at the market are living from hand to mouth, we are getting into debt and we are getting blacklisted because we can’t pay our debts,” she explains sadly.
Oliver adds that when they attempt to transfer their expenses to their customers by selling at a higher price, consumers think that the traders are ripping them off.
She pleads with government and private organisations to extend a hand to the industry and struggling sellers in the country.
“If the government can look our way or if people can assist us with donations, we would appreciate that. We are not talking about money. We are talking about food vouchers to help us survive,” she pleads.
Slowly getting more business
Alicia Tanya Scott, financial and human resource assistant at Jason’s Flowers, a flower market in Johannesburg in Gauteng, says that although they suffered tremendously at the start of the pandemic, business is now slowly picking up because of funerals.
“When Covid-19 restrictions were tight, we had to cut down on staff. Now one person is doing three people’s work because everything has slowed down dramatically.
“We had to stop almost all deliveries during the Covid-19 period as well, because the drivers were afraid of getting infected. Just one or two drivers are doing close-by deliveries at the moment.
“However, it is sad to say that our business has picked up due to the deaths that were caused by Covid-19. We had to do more flowers, reeds and coffin spreads than usual because every day we would get calls from funeral parlours and people who would do walk-ins requesting flowers to bury their loved ones.
“So, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected us somewhat in the beginning, but business seems to be picking up right now,” she says.