October 10, 2016

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Whither the future for Flower City—Dawn or Dusk?

By K Zu (AMIA)

A vendor preparing the flowers to sell. Photo : Aye Min Soe
A vendor preparing the flowers to sell. Photo : Aye Min Soe

Gazing at the lilies and carnations bought from the Pyin Oo Lwin market, U Maung Hla grumbled, “These flowers have ruined our lives.”
The flowers were a beautiful mosaic of colors. Why would such beauty result in so much scorn?
The reason, he said, was their origin — China. U Maung Hla is a Myanmar flower grower who is convinced foreign-grown flowers are the cause of a slow death for local growers.
“Flowers from China have been on sale in Myanmar markets for five consecutive years” he said. “This year, the sale of Chinese flowers reached its peak, decimating the lives of local flower growers.”
Pyin Oo Lwin is known as the city of flowers and has inspired bards, writers, lovers and almost anyone who appreciates beauty. The city attracts visitors and nature lovers from home and abroad. Flower-related businesses are ubiquitous in the town — flower growers, sellers, flower brokerage centres, pedigreed flower-seed shops and flower arrangement stalls.
But that situation has gradually changed. Increased competition from across the border through the Muse border gate has caused some businesses to fold. The resulting debt has caused some owners to split from their spouses, their lives withering like the flowers they used to sell.
Pyin Oo Lwin used to supply 80 per cent of the flower needs of the country, delivering its produce to Yangon and Mandalay, providing a steady income for local farmers. In the past, 10 truck loads of flowers each day were sent nationwide. Only two truck-loads are currently delivered. The market has been taken over by flowers imported from China, according to Ma Ni Lar Thwin, the owner of Pangabar flower brokerage.
Cheaper flowers of Chinese origin such as lilies and carnations now dominate Myanmar flower markets. Unable to compete with them in price, Myanmar flower-sellers have had to reduce the numbers of their employees due to the economic drop. Sales of Myanmar traditional flowers slowly eroded as Chinese imports took their place.
Throughout his life, U Maung Hla eked out a living by growing flowers, which in turn were sold by his offspring, who run a flower brokerage. But U Maung Hla has decided to quit the business in the year to come. Colorful fields of chrysanthemum can no longer cure his disappointment.
His fellow farmers said they want the government to protect the Myanmar flower industry by controlling what they claim are illegal imports.
“We are not afraid of any righteous market competitions. But the government needs to block and scrutinise illegal routes of imports. This will tantamount to considering local farmers’ affairs. We have no techniques to grow their flowers and it costs a lot to buy pedigree seeds,” said U Myint Kyaing, a Myanmar grower.
As sales decline, shops that sell flowers are finding it difficult to collect their debts from local growers, it is learnt.
“Farmers are required to pay their debt at the selling season after a one-year period, but they cannot afford to do so, thus causing us to circulate money into the business”, said Daw Ni Tar of the Lanthit Agricultural Utensils Selling Shop. Local organisations agreed that tighter control over imports is needed.
“The authority concerned is responsible for scrutinising flowers in accord with laws on flowers and seeds and control the undisciplined imports. Failing that, they are guilty of dereliction of duty”, said U Win Kyaing, chairman of Pyin Oo Lwin Horticulture Association,
Some 4,000 flower growers from the region tendered an appeal, urging the authority to scrutinise the influx of illegally imported flowers.
“We had bonanza years in the past, but we are losing now” U Mgaung Hla said. ”If and when hand-in-hand co-operation between the government and flower growers arise, a new era of prosperity is possible.”


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