Yunnan's flower industry wilting

By Peng Yining (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-03-26 07:04
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Drought inflicts further damage on province

KUNMING - The severe drought in Southwest China has seriously affected Yunnan's flower industry - one of the chief industries in the province.

As a result of no rain over the past eight months, both the quantity and quality of flowers have declined, while their prices have soared.

Small flower farms have been especially hard hit and are suffering heavy losses due to a lack of irrigation water. In contrast, large flower farms that use water-saving drip irrigation systems to guarantee their yields are making a fortune from the higher prices they are able to command as a result of flowers being in short supply.

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"The flower industry is very dependent on the weather. Only moderate precipitation brings good yield and quality flowers," said Jiang Kaiyun, a 48-year old flower merchant.

Every day he purchases flowers at the Kunming Dounan Flower Market, which will then be shipped for sale in Shanghai. The price of baby's-breath has increased to 30 yuan ($4.4) per kg from 10 yuan and the price of roses has increased by 15 percent, Jiang said.

"I used to buy 10,000 flowers a day, but I can now only afford fewer. The price of every single flower in Shanghai has also increased," he said.

"Compared with previous years, on Valentine's Day this year flowers were a luxury. The price has reached the highest level now, I think," Jiang said.

"This is the first time the flower industry in Yunnan has suffered such a big blow," said Li Ban, manager of the Dounan Flower Market, Asia's largest.

According to Li, last year, the market sold a total of 400 million yuan of flowers, with 3 million flowers being sold a day at its peak. But this year, the market has sold, at most, 1.4 million flowers a day.

In previous years, trading would last from 9 pm until 3 am. It now ends at 1 am because there are no more flowers to sell. "Even if there are, the quality is not good," said Li. "We are only waiting for the weather to improve and hope for rain."

He said tens of thousands of farmers in Yunnan make a living by planting flowers, with some of them working in small-scale flower farms.

"At these small-scale farms, the situation is miserable," said Li. "They are very poor and there may be only a few acres of land. Due to the lack of water, many farmers have to throw away thousands of flower seedlings they bought, because they know the seedlings won't survive in the drought."

For large-scale flower farms, the effects of drought have been less severe. In Shilin Yi autonomous county, 80 km away from the provincial capital Kunming, there is a 200-hectare flower farm, the Jinyuan Flower Industry Park.

In the greenhouses, each as big as a basketball court, water pipes lie on the ground next to the flower roots. The water droplets slowly emerge from holes in the tube, penetrating each strain of flowers.

"Watering for 10 minutes a day is enough," said Miao Bo, deputy director of the park. "Using drip irrigation techniques, a daily consumption of water is 1 ton per mu (1/15 hectare), while traditional irrigation methods need 3 tons of water per mu."

However, the installation of drip irrigation equipment needs 200,000 yuan per mu, which the vast majority of small farmers cannot afford. Jinyuan also built water pipes to carry water from distant lakes, which is also costly.

Last year, Jinyuan planted 30 million carnations, each sold at 0.2 yuan. This year, the price of carnations has risen to 0.8 yuan each due to the drought, so Jinyuan has expanded its production capacity to 100 million and this year may achieve earnings 10 times higher.

Starting last August, Yunnan has seen almost no rainfall, resulting in seven million people suffering from a lack of drinking water and food. As a result of the drought, economic losses have now reached 13 billion. In addition to the flower industry, the production of tobacco, rubber and sugar cane have also been seriously affected in the province.