GAZA CITY, Palestine
The coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the closure of border by Israel, is leaving flower farmers in the Gaza Strip struggling to survive.
"I used to feed my six children from the flower trade. Look at me now. Heavily indebted," Maher Abu Daqqa, a farmer from the southern city of Khan Younis, told Anadolu Agency.
The outbreak of COVID-19 virus and subsequent measures imposed by the authorities to stem the spread of the disease have badly affected Abu Daqqa's flower business.
On March 6, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency as part of measures to combat the virus.
Most institutions and shops have been closed in application of social distancing rules to prevent the spread of the disease. Celebrations, weddings and other populated social events have also been banned.
As a result, Abu Daqqa's flower business has become on the verge of collapse, forcing him to lay off ten of his workers.
Every day, Abu Daqqa and three co-workers cut off more than 5,000 flowers and feed them to sheep and camels in the area.
"I started the cultivation this year early September in hopes of a sufficient profit. It took us seven months to get the flowers ready for the sheep,'' he said jokingly.
Despite his loss, Abu Daqqa remains defiant, saying he will continue to grow flowers.
"Flowers are the messengers of love, affection and honesty. I will keep growing them no matter what," he said.
Palestinian authorities have confirmed 584 coronavirus infections, including 21 in the Gaza Strip.
Israel's closure of border and a ban of flower exports are adding to the pains of Palestinian farmers in Gaza.
"Flower cultivation is a very expensive business. It requires soil fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation water and workers’ wages and much more," Lubbad Ghazi, 20, told Anadolu Agency.
His father, Ghazi Hijazi, founded his first flower business in the Gaza Strip in 1991 and used to export tens of thousands of flowers to the Netherlands every year.
But when Israel decided to ban flower exports in 2012, the flower farm of the Hijazi family in the southern city of Rafah shrunk from 50 dunums to only 10.
Nowadays, the family shop Bella Rosa is barely receiving any buyers.
Ghazi said his family has lost more than 150,000 shekels till the moment.
"Spring is our lucky season. Unfortunately, we missed graduation ceremonies, weddings parties and even regular customers," he said.
"We destroy and dumb thousands of flowers daily. It is a sad scene."
More than 100 types of flowers are being grown in the Gaza Strip.
Adham Al-Bassiouni, a spokesman for Gaza's Agriculture Ministry, said the imposition of a state of emergency has adversely affected Palestinian farmers in general, and flower farmers in particular.
"Flower cultivation is a major business for farmers in the Gaza Strip and 50 million flowers were exported annually," he said.
"The recent havoc in the business came as a result of accumulated Israeli measures that started with the first Intifada with Israel sweeping away many farms and lands, along with the imposition of the Israeli siege since 2007 and finally the total ban of flower exports in 2012," he said.
Flower farmers in Gaza depend solely on social and national events to market and sell their yields, barely achieving self-sufficiency in normal circumstances.
In 2016, the number of workers in the flower cultivation sector was about 4,500. Now, there are only 1,200 workers, according to Al-Bassiouni.
He stressed that his ministry is keen on providing support and compensation to the farmers, who suffered losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.