Not rosy in the garden: flower farmers face slump

COVID-19 response

Ye Mon
UNICEF Myanmar
10 July 2020

COVID-19 restrictions on travel and personal contact have negatively impacted businesses around the world. The painful shock of losing one’s livelihood is a stressful experience not easily remedied.

Agri-businesses in Southern Shan State including the flower gardens around Heho and Aung Ban Townships are hurting badly from the economic recession. 

“The demand for flowers has dropped during COVID-19 and the prices for our flowers have also fallen. So, our income is  way down these days,” reflects Ko Aung Myo Oo, a gardener from Heho Township, and a father of four-year-old twin boys.

When Ko Aung Myo Oo moved from Yangon to Heho in 2014, he was looking for a chance to make a better living, so he rented a property and started a flower farming business. Most of the flowers grown commercially in southern Shan State are sent to Yangon and sold through the flower traders in Thiri Mingalar Market.

Each year, Ko Aung Myo Oo has worried about his flower gardens being damaged by hailstones as a consequence of climate change. Now the virus is adding to those concerns.

Up until the outbreak, Ko Aung Myo Oo’s flower business had been operating quite well so he had been able to accumulate some small capital to invest in growing the next crop of flowers. However, this year, since his sudden loss of income, the keen gardener has had to borrow money from a lender at eight per cent interest rate.

“I used to be able to buy my children whatever they wanted. Now, I hesitate and have to think hard about whether it is really necessary for them,” the frustrated father says. 

Each crop of flowers takes three months to mature and Ko Aung Myo Oo has been growing at least three crops a year, earning an income of 400 lakhs Myanmar kyats) from each crop season. From that he would pay his employees about 160 lakhsMyanmar kyats.

“At pre-COVID rates, I was finding it easy to save money to invest in the next round of flowers. But now, I’m only earning about 200 lakhs half the sum of before, and I have only around 30 lakhs Myanmar kyats left after all the costs are deducted,” explains the depressed gardener.

As well as monthly salaries Ko Aung Myo Oo must pay daily wages and buy new plants, fertilisers and supplements. Most of the family’s money is invested in the flower gardens and receives the money only when flowers are sold in Yangon's Thiri Mingalar Market. As Ko Aung Myo Oo is struggling financially, he has also applied for a government loan being offered at a low interest rate.

Ko Aung Myo Oo’s family has been cutting down on their expenses during COVID-19 and trying to save some money in case of emergencies. 

“I’m worried about my children’s health. Last month, when my younger son fell sick, we couldn’t afford to take him to the Taunggyi public hospital. We could only go when the money arrived,” says Ko Aung Myo Oo. 

Despite the challenges, the devoted father has decided that he is not going to cut back on food because he feels it is important to prioritise a healthy and nutritious diet for his children. 

As Myanmar’s schools are not open yet Ko Aung Myo Oo’s wife has been teaching the two children. Both parents do their best to stimulate and engage the young learners, showing them cartoons, encouraging them to listen to songs and keeping them active. 

“I can no longer take them along with me when I go out. They must stay at home. Fortunately, the compound around our house in the suburbs has some space for them to play and be active,” says the earnest father. Like many, this family is trying very hard to manage the COVID-19 storm. Support and assistance to ensure children continue to gain access to all basic services are highly needed.

The Department of Social Welfare (DSW) has launched the Maternal and Child Cash Transfer (MCCT) programme in Shan State for pregnant women and children under two years old, where eligible women could register for the programme starting from the 1st July 2020 and receive 15,000 Kyat per month. This programme aims to improve nutrition status of a child in first 1,000 days of life and to access basic services.