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Dangerously in Love:

The Thorns in the Floriculture Industry

By Janelle Dulnuan

· Asia,Environment,Social Entrep

Expressing love through flowers certainly comes with a high cost for the environment.

Flowers have been a modest expression of our feelings and emotions. They have meanings associated with them and befitting special occasions like Valentine’s day, funerals, graduations, and weddings among others. Because of their attractiveness, the demand for flowers has increased globally. Unfortunately, the rapid growth of the industry comes with huge environmental implications such as chemical pollution, increased water footprint, and a vulnerability to external factors such as climate change, oil prices, and currency rates.

Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash

The Floriculture Industry

The cut-flower or floriculture industry started in vast estates in the United Kingdom. In the 1950s, the global flower trade volume was less than $3 billion. In 2003, it was at $101.84 billion. The industry is growing six percent annually in recent years.

The Netherlands is the world’s market leader in the industry. The country then shifted from production to just the distribution and exportation of flowers. It produces 10% of the cut flowers and controls 60% of the worldwide exports (Market News Services, 2008).

Today, Kenya, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Ecuador are the forerunners in the production process worldwide. The climatic conditions in these equatorial countries provide year-round production with low labor costs.

Kenyan Ladies near Lake Naivasha. Too often they are overworked and minimally compensated.

Image from: http://www.efdinitiative.org/

How are flowers cultivated?

For a rose to bloom healthily, fungi and bacteria need to be suppressed. This is why chemical pesticides are widely used in the industry. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT, and Methyl bromide, are both banned in Europe but are still being used in some developing countries. The use of these agrochemicals is loosely regulated since flowers are inedible. Moreover, workers receive hardly any training regarding the correct use of chemicals.

Large volumes of water are also a huge requirement in flower cultivation. Kenya and Ethiopia have low water reserves. The shores of Lake Naivasha for example has served as the cultivating grounds for most of Kenya’s flower farms. However, this lake is also the home for many flamingos, hippos and other animals in the area. Pat Thomas, the former editor of the Ecologist mentioned in his August 2009 article that, ever since the floriculture industry developed, the human population in Naivasha rose from 6,000 to 240,000. Devastatingly, the size of the lake has been reduced and the agrochemicals had severely polluted its waters.

The Health Impacts on Farmers

In the Philippines, Benguet is known to be one of the top cut-flower producers in the country. A 2007 published research done on Benguet farmers was conducted by the National Institute for Health (NIH) of the University of the Philippines in Manila. The main purpose of the study was to determine association between blood indices such as Red Blood Cell cholinesterase and mean corpuscular volume (MCV), and its health impact among cut-flower farmers. The biological markers cholinesterase and MCV can assess actual exposure or toxicity to pesticides particularly organophosphates (Tayser, 2005).

In the study, it had been observed that abnormal RBC cholinesterase levels were positively associated with age, the number of years of using pesticides, use of contaminated clothing, and improper mixing of chemicals. Those that had been living near the cut-flower farms have been reported to have increased incidences of hypertension, allergies, asthma and other respiratory problems.

The Impacts on the Soil

An acidic soil means pathogens or harmful microorganisms that cause diseases are more prevalent. Eventually, the soil condition could interfere with the plant’s growth. Most crops grow best on neutral soil with a pH level of 6-7. The worst case scenario is that farmers will be left with sterile lands.

Researcher A. Cabaling of Benguet State University in the Philippines conducted a study that indicated that farm soils in the Philippines have become more acidic as a result of continuous pesticide use.

From Benguet, Philippines with Love

Photo from Accents and Petals Facebook Page

In the province of Benguet, Accents and Petals is making its mark as a social enterprise that offers long-lasting floral decorations using recycled, eco-friendly and sustainable materials. They use a variety of materials such as wood shavings, sola wood, paper, tissue card roll, cornhusk, fossilized leaves, dried leaves and seeds, empty soda cans, jeans, and eco-friendly fabrics. They make eternal treasures out of these wastes which are more sustainable than real flowers.

The founder, Mr. Dean Cuanso, an indigenous person from the Cordilleras, established the company eight years ago in a small room in his house. Today, he is using his entire house for crafting due to the increased raw materials and goods inventory gathered from the community. He employs fellow indigenous people coming from the Ibaloi and Kan-kanaey tribes of Benguet and Mountain Province. He has 6 regular workers and 20 home-based workers.

Dean Cuanso, founder of Accents and Petals
Photo from Dean Cuanso

The company sells their products through their online store in Etsy and through their Facebook page. They have shipped to the United States and other countries.

Indeed, it is remarkable to note that the enterprise supports the intended beneficiaries- out-of-school youths, the unemployed and the underemployed, and those earning below the minimum wage in Benguet Province. The beneficiaries receive free training for handicraft creation and their outputs are bought by Accents and Petals.

Beneficiaries’ workshop

Photo from Dean Cuanso

The Craft Room

Photo from Accents and Petals Facebook Page

As a social enterprise, Accents and Petals makes sure that part of their proceeds will be used to fund and support different community initiatives like sports activities, feeding programs, clean-up drives, tree planting activities and handing out school supplies for students in the rural communities of Benguet. At present, Accents and Petals is constructing their three-story facility to hire more employees. They are currently looking for grants and potential investors willing to fund the necessary expansion.

This initiative proves that there are ways on how to offset our carbon footprints without making our lives flowerless.

Photo from Accents and Petals Facebook Page

Flowers do leave carbon footprints but perhaps, we can make a conscientious effort to lighten the tread and ensure that those footprints are heading in a more sustainable direction. This coming Valentine’s Day, it may be necessary to scrutinize the culturally constructed method of expressing your feelings and emotions through flowers.

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