Do the right thing: buy flowers from Africa

Hilary Benn says that we should buy flowers imported from poor countries, even if we are concerned about the environment:

some recent research by Cranfield University – who compared the emissions from producing 12,000 rose stems in Kenya with those in Holland, including transporting them to Hampshire – and found that the emissions produced by Kenyan rose and flying them here can be less than a fifth of those grown in heated and lighted greenhouses in Holland. Why? Because Kenya is warm and sunny, and heating greenhouses in Holland uses enormous amounts of fossil fuels.

Furthermore, even if it were not better for the environment to buy African flowers rather than Dutch flowers, we should still consider buying flowers, fruit and vegetables from Africa:
people living in the vast majority of African countries are responsible for a tiny amount of carbon emissions. In Kenya, carbon emissions are 200 kg a head; here it is fifty times that. We should bear that in mind when making our choices.

This is social justice on a global scale. If we boycott their goods that are flown to the UK we deny our fellow human beings their chance to grow; their chance to reduce poverty. It’s like saying, we messed this planet up, but you can take the consequences.

So do the right thing on Valentines Day: buy flowers from Africa.

4 thoughts on “Do the right thing: buy flowers from Africa”

  1. I agree that buying flowers from Kenya in February is more environmentally sustainable than buying flowers from northern Europe. But consumers have another choice, and that is to buy locally and seasonally. For example, the curly kale and cavolo de nero sold at our local farmers market has travelled less than 30 miles, the most appropriate flowers in February are snowdrops and crocuses, and British daffodils are already available. Should Kenyan economic development be controlled by British supermarkets, which don't have a great track record in giving producers a fair share of the profits, or in handling the environmental and social consequences in Kenya? Are there more sustainable value-added products that would be better for Kenya, as shown by Ghana's Divine Chocolate? And are there emerging markets in the region for locally-grown produce?

  2. Thanks John.

    I agree on the value of buying local and seasonal food.  But I also buy imported food, and I don’t feel uncomfortable about it.  The countries that grow that food – may of whose people depend on the income – have much lower emissions per head than we do; and we should cut our own emissions rather than impose the cost of adjustment on them.

    The supermarkets do not "control" Kenyan development.  They provide an opportunity for Kenyan farmers to sell their products to rich consumers.  That is welcome.  As consumers, we should do what we can to ensure that we buy products that pass benefits to the growers – for example by buying Fair Trade.  But it does not benefit the world’s poor to boycott the products that they are able to sell us.

  3. Actueally just a thought, It takes 120 liters of water per dozen roses.
    Kenya was told by their government to grow roses to get themselves out of dept. These roses are being grown by foreign corporation that have moved over seas because of lax regulations. The water source for both Kenya and these roses are a lake called Lake Naivasha. If the water for these roses continues to be used at the current rate. This lake will be dried up in as little as 5 years. These people will then die of thirst and the foreign corporations will just pick up and move somewhere else. This is not helping the people only the corporations. Buy flowers, along with other necessities locally. Re use what you already have. Support local and small business as much as possible.
    Also fair trade is not so fair, do some research on it 
    Great documentaries on Netflix 
    Blue Gold: World Water Wars
    Bag It
    No Impact Man
    A River of Waste

    Owen replies: Thanks for this comment. I agree that a lot of agricultural trade is implicitly a trade in water (the same is true of commercial land purchases, for example by Middle Eastern companies of farms in Africa). But you have taken a big, and wholly unsupported, step when you say ‘buy flowers, and other necessities, locally’. If the energy costs of growing flowers in Kenya and transporting them to Europe are much lower than the cost of growing those flowers in colder, darker Europe, then you should NOT buy flowers locally. The correct conclusion is not ‘buy local’ but ‘set prices correctly to reflect the true economic and social cost of each product and then let the market take care of the rest’.

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