The Price of Our Roses

We love to give away flowers on any occasion. What we know little about is where the flowers are coming from. A little investigation.

“It is not about legal or illegal anymore, it is about what is ethical and what is unethical”, a lady says when describing the companies producing flowers in Kenya. The heavy use of water of the industry is jeopardizing not only the local fauna and flora but also the livelihood of the local people. The Masai – pastoral people – are loosing more and more grassland. “There is not much balance between our needs and the economic development”, one Masai explains. Watch the movie The true cost of Mother’s Day flowers by Felicity Lawrence to see where the masses of flowers for Mother’s day come from.

“Kenya is one of the world’s largest exporters of cut stems.”, Felicity Lawrence explains in another article, and points out how this is a very export driven economy. Flowers are important for Kenya. “With an annual growth rate of 20%, the cut flower industry is among the fastest growing sectors of the Kenyan economy and, with revenues of more than $250m a year, it is Kenya’s second largest agricultural foreign exchange earner after tea.”, we learn from the Faitrade Foundation. But the problem is that, out of the huge profit made with the flowers in Europe, little is staying in Kenya. “If you look at the average price at which flowers are exported from Kenya and the average price at which they are imported into Europe, there does appear to be a large gap which cannot be accounted for by transport costs alone.”

Another origin of many of the flowers we give away is Ecuador. A Mother Jones’ article writes: “Insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and soil fumigants used in the greenhouses are causing serious health problems for Ecuador’s 60,000 rose workers – especially the women and children who sort and package the flowers prior to shipping.” Around 60% of the workers complain about symptoms of poisoning due to the substances used in the production. Besides, the environment is suffering as well. Experts say “the town’s air and water have been contaminated by chemicals from the industry.”

Fairtrade companies do offer an alternative. Fairtrade licensed flowers do not only drastically improve worker’s conditions: they also have a more sustainable relationship with the environment. “The Fairtrade minimum standards require certified farms to protect the nearby water supply, and many certified farms go beyond this minimum requirement.”. If you think that flowers are mostly presents, one could imagine people would want to give away things from a fair origin, right?

The people who cut our flowers really depend on the work in the rose factories. That is how we will probably continue to be able to buy cheap roses for Mother’s and Valentine’s Day. However, for the people in the rose areas these flowers are expensive: for their environment, for their health and for the development of their countries.

Picture by ksflower, merci!

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