A Blossoming Profession
From drawing rooms to palatial halls, from lovers' hands to the decorations on the wedding bed, from the cradle to the grave, flowers serve as a medium for expressing love and other things. Among the many successful flower farmers out there is Md Khaleque. He is known as 'Phul Khaleque'. Because of his success, nobody knows his family name anymore. He started off his career as a gateman at a zoo. At one point he saw the opportunity for cultivating flowers. He never really worried about the profits or expanding his business, he just filled bigha after bigha with flowers because he loved them. He has proven that this business can turn fates around. His enthusiasm was contagious- a lot of people in Thakurgaon now want to do the same as he has done. He is almost responsible for a minor agricultural revolution in the area.
It started in 1992. At the time Khaleque was only 18. He got into gardening because he liked it. His paternal home was in Nobarebag. His father was a businessman who managed a low-paid zoo gatekeeper job for him. At first he really didn't want to do it, but later he agreed due to the lack of any other jobs. However, all day he thought about thousands of varieties of flowers. He started tending to the plants. He has always enjoyed looking after plants. People around him laughed at his interests. Khaleque claims that he understands the 'language' of the plants in the same way a doctor understands his patients- he understands what the plants need. He says only when one has loved the plants can one know what is good for them.
In 1988 Dhaka was hit by a flood. A lot of people who had lost their homes took refuge in Khaleque's family home. He couldn't possibly take care of everyone. He decided to sell his plants to make room for all those people to stay. A doctor decided to buy all the plants. Abdul Khaleque sold all the plants he had for Taka 80,000. Afterwards, he worked on small flower gardens. Visitors came. He started selling 50-100 flowers a day at wholesale rates. He quit the job he had held for 16 years. In 1996 he decided to jump into the flower business fulltime. He figured that doing some business and being his own boss gave him higher status than if he had been a gateman. He leased 6 bighas of land from Shadulapur, Savar for taka 5000 and started cultivating roses, chandramalika, gypsy fulia and gladiolas. In a matter of 1-2 years his business started to do really well. Everyday Khaleque would be selling 300-400 flowers wholesale on average. His days started to change. In the past, flower prices would fluctuate like crazy. Now they are controlled a little more carefully keeping the profits fairly secure. If flower imports go down however, prices soar.
Khaleque says that previously flower vendors would arrive with all kinds of threats. They'd tell him that Khaleque's flowers would die and he might as well sell them for the low prices they wanted. He was still fine. He had 5-6 assistants looking after the flowers. When necessary he'd hire even more help.
Khaleque kept expanding, first in 1998-2000, taking his business to Ashulia and then in 2003 when he leased 10 bighas in his native Thakurgaon. At first it wasn't easy for him. His relatives told him that he was crazy. They'd say “people can't even get food in this country! You're growing flowers!” He wasn't discouraged. He kept planting roses, rojonigondha and gladiolas. He was successful in Thakurgaon for three straight years. In the winter, the flowers tend to rot easily. There's usually too much fog and rain. He got agricultural workers to check out what was going on. Nobody could properly fix this problem of flowers dying quickly. This year, on a large part of ten acres of land, instead of growing flowers he grew fruits. Somewhere along the line he must have felt the urge to do something a little different, and fruits seemed to make sense. He believes that in the future he will be just as successful with fruit as he has been with flowers.
He said, “A lot more could be developed in agriculture in the country if only the authorities were a little more concerned. There are all these natural disasters, like Sidr. There are floods and cyclones. There's way too much tainted fertilizer on the market. We farmers just rely on God. Whenever I see impure fertilizer being sold, I get a little sad.”
He says there are no good agriculture loan schemes in this country. Loans of 30 lakh are given for farming in India. Here, they lend about 5-10 thousand taka through the cooperative society. Farmers can't do much with that. He says loans are only given out when there is some collateral. This country is made up of farmers, and they are mostly poor. They can't afford to take loans this way. The banking system is really hard on them.
Khaleque has been abroad a number of times. First he went to Thailand. He found out about modern cultivation techniques there. He saw that over there, florists would be open 24 hours a day. The florist he met was the owner of four Nissan cars. Khaleque has visited China too. He thinks in China they treat flowers with the same amount of care that doctors treat patients at hospitals.
Although his business has really grown, Khaleque has not been able to export his product yet. The regulations say you need to supply the flowers to the airport 24 hours in advance. So by the time the flowers would reach their destination countries, they would be wilted.
'Phul Khaleque' dreams of one day using green houses to grow his flowers as is done in industrialized countries. A lot more people will get jobs working with him, more than the 30 person staff he currently has. Right now he supplies his flowers to the Shahbag florists in Dhaka. Every year he makes a healthy profit of about taka 3 lakhs. The demand for flowers is ever-growing. Khaleque is dreaming big. He hopes that one day people will talk about the flower business in the same way they now talk about the garments industry.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008