A toxic worm in Kenya's buds
The African state's flower growers are going 'ethical'. But what about pesticides and land use? asks John Madeley
Sunday 01 February 1998
A recently established body called the Kenya Flower Council, made up of 17 flower growers employing over 20,000 people, mostly women, says that one of its aims is "to grow flowers in such a manner as to safeguard the environment". The council this week opened an office in London. Its 17 growers account for 60 per cent of Kenya's flower production, and over 90 per cent of exports to Britain.
Two of its largest members are Sulmac, a Unilever company, and Homegrown, supplier to Marks & Spencer, each employing around 5,000 people. Asda, Safeway, Sainsbury's and Tesco also sell Kenyan cut flowers.
Growers can join the flower council if they agree to abide by a "code of practice". This requires them to give their employees a six-day working week of 46 hours, 21 days paid holiday a year after a year's service and two months paid maternity leave for women. For African farm estates, such conditions are good. Mr Evans also claims that members pay "well above the government minimum salary".
The flower growers are obliged by the code to reduce inputs of chemicals and to ensure that pesticides are used safely. Workers spraying pesticide "must wear protective equipment", for example.
However, Kenya's farmers use around 300 tonnes a year of a highly toxic poison and ozone layer depleter called methyl bromide. This is used to kill weeds and pests in the soil, but it accounts for about 10 per cent of global ozone losses. Also, along with weeds and pests, it kills everything else in the soil, leaving it sterile. Large amounts of fertiliser then have to be applied to make anything grow.
Kenya has been using more than 5 per cent of its foreign earnings to import methyl bromide, most of which is used by its flower growers and producers of export crops. Mr Evans said that there were no effective substitutes for methyl bromide, but that his company, Homegrown, had substantially reduced its use and was seeking alternatives.
Ms Barbara Dinham, speaking for the environmental charity, The Pesticides Trust, said that there are substitutes, "some of which are being used successfully in flower production". Solarisation - laying plastic strips on the soil to trap the sun's heat - is used to control pests effectively in Egypt, Morocco, India and Pakistan, for example.
From the "ethical" perspective, there is also a question mark over whether horticulture can continue to expand in Kenya without intensifying conflicts over land and water. The country is already short of land for producing food. One of the main flower growing areas is around Lake Naivasha, where flowers grow on land that was previously ranch land and small farms. Conflicts have been reported between expanding horticultural schemes around the lake and Masai cattle owners, who claim the surrounding land is theirs.
Irrigation systems used by the flower industry make heavy demands on local water resources. A Dutch Ministry of Agriculture official has estimated that an extra 15cm of water is being extracted each year from Lake Naivasha by the flower growers. This inevitably means that less water is available for farmers producing food crops.
Liz Orton of Christian Aid, which is running an ethical trading campaign, welcomed the Kenyan flower growers' initiative but cautioned that the code of practice would need to be independently monitored - something Mr Evans said he would welcome. "It's a good code if it's implemented," said Ms Orton, although she felt there was room for improvement, especially on workers' social conditions. "The monitoring would need some kind of mechanism by which the experience of workers could be fed into the process."
A further issue for a large consortium flying the "ethical trading" flag is the effects on small shops. Mr Evans admitted that the big supermarkets were easing out local florists in Britain, but said the supermarkets were also doing a lot to encourage people to buy flowers.
The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift
- 1 Salisbury ranked seventh-best city in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy has not been arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Chicago voter tells Obama 'don't touch my girlfriend' – Obama stays super smooth
Oscar Pistorius: The brutal prison life that awaits disgraced athlete
Banksy has not been arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
Ebola outbreak: Nowhere is safe until virus is contained in Africa, claims the top doctor who beat it in Nigera
Raphael Ravenscroft dead: 'Baker Street' musician who played the most famous saxophone solo for just £27, dies aged 60
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
Worst Airports of 2014: Poll names Islamabad airport in Pakistan worst in the world
iJobs Money & Business
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £Competitive: SThree: SThree Group and have be...
£23000 per annum + pension and 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ...