ENVIRONMENT - FLOWER POWER - REVIEW
A bouquet of flowers is
no longer a gift of nature but an industrial commodity. First, methyl
bromide renders the soil dead; chemical are then added to make the
plants grow, pesticides are applied to keep them healthy and finally
more chemical preserve their freshness. To transport 10 carnations from
Kenya to Europe uses half a litre of oil. Bio-tech firms get half the
price of plants designed to resist bugs and to look good after a
week’s travel and marketing. The industry is capital intensive.
Growers plant money.
Holland dominates the
trade. One in five flowers marketed in Europe is grown in the
Netherlands. Two out of five pass through Dutch auction houses, with a
sizeable percentage coming from Kenyan farms owned by Unilever, an
Game of the Rose provides a
preliminary report on how the globalisation of horticulture exploits
human labour and nature resources. Colombia is a case study of the worm
in the bud. Flower-growing was promoted as an alterative to cocaine.
Instead, the set-up costs are too great for small farmers and the flower
industry has become another cover for drug money.
Japan and the US use
plant health as a non-tariff barrier. A single spot on one flower can
condemn a complete assignment. Hence, each hectare of land is treated
with at least 35kg of active chemicals. Once the flowers are cut, stems
are sold as fodder, so pesticides enter the food chain. Flowers also
require irrigation. The water table sinks and what remains is infected
Every Colombian who
handles chemicals is supposed to be trained for 120 hours, which is not
likely when official wage levels are only $120 a month and workers can
be had for much less. The IMF weakened labour laws so that safety
regulations are not enforced. Firms sponsor company unions and maintain
blacklists of strikers and their relatives. Workers and farmers set up
road blocks, which are effective protests because the flowers cannot get
to the market while fresh.
encourage this trade – it offers some of the hard currency needed
because the failure of previous export crops (tea, coffee, cocoa, jute)
has left economies short of food for their own people.