Flowers from developing countries
The flower trade is a global market that is becoming increasingly competitive and one in which numerous African and South American countries also participate. Climatic conditions in equatorial regions are almost perfect for flower growing. Colombia and Kenya are among the leading producers in developing countries and both have been criticized for poor labour conditions, extensive use of agrochemicals and swallowing up of land.
Many problems are caused by flower cultivation in developing countries, problems which can lead to high costs for the growers in more ways than one. One major negative effect is that land is diverted away from growing much-needed food. Prime agricultural land is increasingly being used to meet the demands of the Western World and the income generated has reached very few of the Third World’s working poor. Another factor is water. The ideal climatic conditions for flower cultivation in equatorial regions are ideal as far as warmth is concerned, but less so in terms of rain. Flower production needs water and this need is 30 to 40 times greater than the amount required to grow wheat.
Other negative effects are on health. Use of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and soil fumigants can cause serious health problems amongst workers, especially in closed areas such as greenhouses or sheds where women and children sort and package flowers for shipping. Studies show that well over 50% per cent of postharvest workers complain of symptoms such as blurred vision, headaches and muscular twitching – clear indications of pesticide poisoning. Women make up the majority of employees in the floriculture industry and they also suffered significantly higher-than-average rates of miscarriage.
Western consumers are slowly but surely becoming aware of these shortcomings. Major supermarket chains are gradually increasing the demand for “fair trading” amongst their suppliers. And in Kenya for example, the Kenyan Flower Council (KFC), has introduced a Code of Practice “to foster the responsible and safe production of cut flowers while protecting the natural environment and benefiting the welfare of all farm staff and promoting a safe working environment”. And although air-freight is essential to ensure the rapid delivery of fresh flowers from all over the world, transport is now often made on passenger flights, which are at least already scheduled.