We met many people in the course of life but very few have a huge impact on our life. Managing Director of Soex Flora, one of the largest exporter of roses from India, Mr. Arif Fazlani is one of the leaders having a great influence on people. A man with vision and conviction of doing the right thing no matter what the circumstances are. His kindness and his ability to empathize with people make him an excellent leader. In an interview with Shabistan Khan, he shared his views on the current pandemic and the cyclone that hit Indian Floriculture and the road to recovery.
By Shabistan Khan
Mr. Arif Fazlani Managing Director Soex Flora
Question 1: What is your assessment of the impact of COVID-19 the global floriculture?
Mr. Arif Fazlani: COVID-19 is a tragic event, but I am a positive thinker. I feel God has given us a break from all that we were doing in this world. We became so materialistic that we never thought that, the only shop we needed to survive is where we are buying our groceries. We thought money could buy us everything so people are running a race to earn and accumulate more money without thinking how they are earning it. Mother earth has given us everything, but in return what did we do? Abusing nature and wildlife. Vegetables & fruits growers, and vendors would use any chemicals just to increase the yield and earn more profit, not considering the harmful impact it has on consumer’s health and mother nature.
While I look at it and reflect upon it, this time is an opportunity given to us by Almighty Lord to mend our ways. I have learned a lot from this time. Of course, I had my share of negative and depressing moments too. But coming back to your questions, my direct answer is yes, we have seen all the industries around the world hit by COVID-19, some have major consequences than others.
Flowers being perishable and largely considered as non-essential commodities hit hard. From reports, floriculture lost almost $8.5 billion in global trade.
The tragedy for Indian growers is not only that it was hit by the Covid-19 but also with Cyclone Nisarga on 3rd of June 2020, which has destroyed many greenhouses, especially in the Pune region, in India. Resulting in a huge loss for many farmers & growers in terms of plants and structure. But those who are insured will be compensated. There will be a loss of opportunity and loss in business income, but we will come out this too and survive.
Question 2: Could you tell us about the efforts you have taken at your farm to address the impact of the COVID 19 crisis?
Mr. Arif Fazlani: We were looking closely at the situation arising due to both events, COVID-19 and now the cyclone. We have more than 1,000 workers at the farms. The safety of our people is the topmost priority for us. During these challenging times, the firms are going to face the liquidity crunch. We looked deeply into our needs and how we can keep our labors and our staff together and take care of their safety and security. We are a family-owned business house, our family has retained all our staff from all our Fazlani Group of Companies. We have paid every employee their salaries. It’s our time to pay back not just to our people but to the society at large.
We do not want to let go of our workforce and take any drastic steps. So, we are avoiding the expenses which are not necessary and investment that can be delayed, we have kept them for the time when things become normal. We are focusing on one day at a time and running our basic day to day operations smoothly.
We are working on different ways to reach our local customers. We are supplying flowers to local housing societies in Mumbai and Pune. Now some cities are open and the local wholesale market is opening so looking forward to international shipments to start soon.
Question 3: What do you see as the biggest challenges for floriculture in times to come from Indian growers’ perspective?
Arif Fazlani: As far as India is concerned maintaining the labor workforce is one of the biggest challenges as 50 percent of our labor are migrants coming from other states of India. Due to COVID-19, there was fear with laborers and they wanted to go back to their hometown. Due to lockdown, they could not go. Now the lockdown is lifted and many laborers will go to their hometown. We do not want to stop anyone as we understand they wanted to be with their families. We are hopeful they will come back when things are normal. By God’s grace, not even a single family has left us at Soex Flora nor planned to leave. I am proud of my team.
Finance and working capital will be the other major concern for all businesses. Also, unavailability of flight, space constraints, and higher freight charges are challenges ahead of us. We will face it and take them as it comes.
Question 4. During this time of uncertainty, What do firms today need to do to be prepared for the future?
Mr. Arif Fazlani: For any organization, people are their greatest asset. How we treat them now is going to stay with them forever. For me, my people and their safety are my top priority. This crisis has given us lots of time to reflect and innovate. Invest time we have in hand wisely and do not take long term big decisions till the time we have some certainty. Have transparent communication with all the stakeholders. Keep a good and healthy relationship with your customers and vendors. They too have suffered so we need to let them come to terms rather than rushing them to give us higher prices from day one.
Question 5. What are the measures taken for the safety of people at work?
Mr. Arif Fazlani: We are maintaining a protocol of social distancing and personal hygiene. We have provided work from the home facility for teams who can work from home. With the production labor we have given them masks and safety gear. Install sanitizer at various locations at the farm. Few laborers are allowed to work in the greenhouse to maintain social distance. We are also, training our people to adopt a new way of working.
Question 6. How do you see floriculture in the near future?
Mr. Arif Fazlani: In the near future, as Indian markets are opening now we will see some volumes moving to local markets. From the production point, it will be low for a few weeks, so less supply of flowers in the market. We are hoping airlines will start operating for more international and domestic destinations. We will start exporting soon.
The good news is the Government of India and especially our state Honorable Minister Shri Aditya Thackeray has taken a personal interest to ensure a complete ban on plastic flowers. This will be big news and a great victory to fresh-cut flower growers and dealers. We will be benefiting in a big way. In the absence of artificial flower demand for fresh cut flowers will increase.
Question 7. Any message for folks in floriculture?
Mr. Arif Fazlani: Tough times don’t last; tough people do. As a leader people look at us so it is especially important to keep calm and be optimistic. Stay positive and learn from our mistakes. Take care of nature and our surroundings. Cut down all unnecessary expenses. Don’t let go of your team, hold hands, and support each other, Stay Strong. We will come out of this challenging time sooner and we will succeed God willing. God Bless you all.