Blossoming Shame: Pandemic and War in Ukraine Harm Thailand’s Orchid Industry
“TIME IS COUNTED”
While Somchai ships its products directly overseas, the majority of orchid growers in Thailand rely on large Bangkok-based exporters.
Air freight costs have tripled or quadrupled in recent months, depending on the destination, said Wuthichai Pipatmanomai, vice president of the Thai Orchid Exporter Association and co-owner of Sun International Flower, a major exporter.
Before the pandemic, the company delivered 3.6 million orchids per month to China, Japan, Vietnam and the United States.
Today, only 1.2 million flowers leave the warehouse and he had to lay off half his staff.
“We asked the authorities for financial support, but we did not receive anything,” Wuthichai said. “Hurry up.”
The 20% increase in its selling price led several importers – especially those in Europe – to abandon it to focus on more local flowers.
The only hope is that sales in Japan remain stable and those in the United States increase with the start of the wedding season, he said.
However, in the long term, changing weather patterns are also troubling for growers.
“We are increasingly experiencing the effects of climate change,” Wutachai said, pointing to a recent surprise cold spell in early April in which the temperature dropped sharply from 36 degrees Celsius (97 Fahrenheit) to 21 degrees Celsius in just 24 hours, affecting orchid production.
“We are concerned that these situations will occur more and more frequently.”
Thailand’s coronavirus restrictions have also affected domestic sales – a lack of tourists has led to restaurant and hotel orders being reduced, and gathering bans have affected Thai Buddhist ceremonies.
And despite the kingdom’s international reopening, local demand remains lukewarm.
While Bangkok’s biggest flower market looks busy – wholesalers can be seen scurrying down the colorful aisles laden with large woven baskets containing flowers – vendors tell a different story.
Than Tha Win, who patiently waits for customers at his orchid stall, said his income has dropped by 70%.
“Everyone is still scared to come to the market because of COVID-19,” the 21-year-old said.
Meanwhile, Waew, a 45-year-old saleswoman, said she had around 600 unsold orchids left a day and was trying to stem her losses by tearing off the petals and selling them as a separate product.
“Stop working with orchids? Impossible, I don’t know how to do anything else,” she said.