Flowers and a Blooming Industry
By Emily Lomax
The flower industry is complicated. There are many parties involved, with the Netherlands playing a major role in wholesale trading and breeding and an increasing amount of production migrating to the southern hemisphere. These countries, primarily Columbia, Ecuador, and Kenya, have the climate for fast flower production, and cheaper labour costs. Because of the many stakeholders involved in the production and trade of flowers, understanding the true impact of the industry becomes challenging.
A short history on the bouquet
The oldest evidence of flowers arranged in bouquets comes from Ancient Egypt. There is also a history in Japan and China; flower arranging was a refined art-form centered around a belief that all life, including plants, was sacred (cut flowers were used sparingly). Bouquets eventually made an appearance in The Netherlands in the 18th century, where lavish arrangements were used as displays of wealth. The more familiar tradition of gifting flowers as an expression of sentiment was popularized in the Victorian era.
Cut-flowers and bouquets today
Today, the $8.5 billion floral industry continues to be dominated by the Netherlands, which has been the heart of the trade for the last 200 years.1
The many hands through which a single flower can pass makes traceability challenging and, along with the lack of data, a calculation of total impact near to impossible.
The poverty and poor working conditions at flower farms in developing nations have been reported on for many years. While there have been improvements, especially in the case of the creation of certification programmes (i.e. Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Verifora) to ensure that ethical and environmental standards are being complied with and enforced, the industry continues to be criticized for its poor labour standards.3
There are many benefits to local communities, with the presence of the flower trade. The cut flower industry is the principal employer for many local workers in some developing nations, such as Kenya who’s second-largest export is cut flowers (greater than coffee, less than tea).4 The flower industry employs hundreds of thousands in Kenya alone. The industry also gives people, especially women, in rural areas with small amounts of land an opportunity to grow a cash crop.3
While this economic impact can be substantial, the flower market – like its product – is fragile. While it can be argued that industry bolsters employment in developing nations and reduces dependence on aid, it’s a vulnerable industry and subject to many uncontrollable factors, such as oil prices, climate change, as well as the economic situation in target markets.
In this time of global pandemic, weddings are being postponed, florists are closing up shop, and grocery stores are putting all priority on stocking food staples and essential items. As these changes have happened across the world, the effects are being felt from the flower fields to the auction houses, to the local flower shops.
Last month, one of the largest floral auction houses in the world (through which 40% of the world’s flowers pass) destroyed 70% of its supply due to the drop in demand and is predicting a cumulative loss of $2 billion locally.6 As sales continue to remain low, the impact will eventually ripple to the beginning of the line, and flower farms across the world will be forced to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers.
Choosing Where Your Flowers Come From
If you opt for a last-minute bouquet at the grocery store, it’s unlikely that a store attendant will be able to tell you where those flowers were grown. A single flower typically travels thousands of miles and crosses multiple borders before they land at their final destination, and there is often little to no traceability. Going to a local flower shop is the best way to ensure that your purchase has a positive impact on the place where it was grown, and every hand it has passed through.
Why Local and Seasonal are Best
Tips for Buying Local