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

WITH an "ethical trading" approach, which stresses concern for the environment and worker welfare and safety, Kenya's flower growers are bidding to consolidate their position as one of the largest suppliers of cut flowers to Britain. Yet the environmental record of the Kenyan horticultural industry has been questionable, and sceptics wonder: is the industry's new interest in ethical trading real or a marketing ploy?

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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £Competitive: SThree: SThree Group and have be...

Helpdesk Analyst

£23000 per annum + pension and 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London