In previous issues of FloraCulture International, I dedicated several columns to the subject of black swans and serendipity. Black swans are the brainchild of Lebanese American writer, statistician and former Wall Street trader, Nassim Taleb. He describes a black swan as an event that is unanticipated, of extreme magnitude and is characterized by the widespread insistence they were evident in hindsight.
It now seems that the coronavirus is casting its shadow over the world at the societal, ethical medical and economic levels.
COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on the floriculture industry around the world, and nowhere else in the world, the effect is more significant than in the Netherlands, the country that dominates the worldwide trade in flowers.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Dutch banks classify the country’s sector in three different segmentation’s: strong, medium-strong and weak companies. Noting that they will support strong businesses, consider what to do with the medium-strong companies while emphasizing that they will not support weak business, financially.
The floriculture industry operates within its networks and limitations and is trading in perishable products. The floriculture supply chain deals with high turnovers and low margins and constant pressure on growers and traders to deliver just in time. Growing and trading flowers and plants are typically a high-risk business and as such are hardly comparative to large, industrial companies.
Over the past few weeks, we have all witnessed how the consumption of flowers and plants has come to a near standstill. Transportation of products becomes increasingly challenging as export sales within the EU and global marketplace.
We hope that the banks will carefully consider these things mentioned above and give both farmers, traders (importers and exporters) the financial aid they crave.
Financial decisions and intervention by the banks are unavoidable, no matter how cruel and impactful these can be for individual companies.
The same principle applies to public health. Medical staff will have to make a very difficult choice. We all know that doctors in Italy in some cases are being forced to choose which coronavirus patients to save: young and otherwise healthy or the old and vulnerable. Economists use the concept called ‘the value of a statistical life (VSL)’ to estimate the direct and indirect economic impact of human life, just as banks estimate the direct and indirect economic impact of a company.
This idea is not a new one. For years, we’ve asked ourselves the question of how much we, as a society, are willing to pay for costly medicines to save a patient. Medicines that cost per patient over a million euros or dollars per year cannot be insured under fair payable conditions.
In the end, whether you are a doctor or a banker or a government, the decisions to act are taken on economic grounds. Terrible but true.
But there is also good news as serendipity is around the corner. Around the world, scientists and producers of medicines are working on medicines to protect against all kinds of diseases, including COVID-19.
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered the radiation by accident, as did Alexander Flemming with his penicillin. With all these researchers today working on a COVID-19 medicine perhaps serendipity helps and brings us from an unexpected corner a fast, cheap and well-working medicine.
Many others, more ordinary products used in daily life such as tea bags, staples, and post-it stickers were invented by accident. Although I do not believe in miracles, I do hope all our sorrows and thinking shall bring us solutions for the sector we all have close to our hearts, and this includes all the growers, traders, and workers involved in this industry.