How Eco Friendly Are My Cut Flowers? A Case Study of Lake Naivasha Kenya.
How eco-friendly are my cut flowers?
If you love the outdoors and the beautiful flowers that nature provides us with, it is only natural to want to bring them into your home. Bouquets bring colour, scent and a sense of happiness into our homes by literally ‘brightening up the room’, but how does this fit into a more eco-friendly lifestyle?
Rather conflictingly, a love of plants, something so natural in itself, can be damaging to the environment.
Water demand, pollution and air miles:
The majority of the UK and Europe’s cut flowers are grown far away, in hot countries close to the Equator where plant species like tulips, carnations and roses thrive. In fact, Kenya boasts 38% of the EU market (Euractiv 2017), and has been described as ‘the flower bed of Africa’ (DW 2018)
Lake Naivasha in Kenya is an interesting case study to look at when discussing the impact of our love of cut flowers has on the environment.
Over the last few decades, huge flower farms have sprung up on and around the lake’s shores due to the fertile soils of the region and huge water availability. Roses dominate the demand, around 70% of the flower export market (Mekonnen et al 2012), especially around Valentine’s Day. Cut flowers are thirsty both when growing for instance, the estimated water demand for just one rose flower is 7-13 litres (Mekonnen et al 2012). This huge demand has meant that enormous quantities of water is drawn from the lake for irrigation (Madadi et al 2017) and has contributed to water levels in the lake decreasing year on year, and drought is becoming an ever increasing issue.
But decreased water levels aren’t the only impact the flower industry has on the lake water. There is also the issue of fertilisers and pesticides from the farms leaching into the lake. This is very damaging to biodiversity, with all kinds of plant and animal species suffering as a consequence.
There is also the problem of air pollution caused by the transportation of the flowers back to the UK and Europe.
What you can do:
If you love having flowers in your home, but are looking for more environmentally sustainable ways to do this, there are a few simple things you can do instead of buying that bouquet:
- Potted plants can look just as beautiful, and could last much longer than cut flowers. Just make sure you buy plants that are suited to your home (e.g. shade tolerant, or plants that like sunny places for your windowsill), and know how best to look after them. Gardeners’ World have some great advice, and why not get some inspiration from Jamie Chen Song’s amazing collection of house plants here?
- Wooden or paper flowers can give the illusion of real flowers, however with no upkeep!
- Cacti and succulents have become very fashionable recently, and for good reason. They can last for years, and are easy to look after. Just be careful not to overwater them.
- Choosing seasonal flowers grown in the UK is an especially nice touch for weddings or event flowers. Wildflowers and herbs can add uniqueness and delicate scents to bouquets. Check out The British Flower Collective and Flowers From The Farm, a co-operative supporting small businesses and promoting British cut flowers.
Is it all bad?
It is important to mention that the flower industry in Kenya has some benefits, if not environmentally, but socially.
It is estimated that over 2 million Kenyans are employed by the industry, and therefore rely on it for their livelihoods (Ecoligo 2018). Many of the flower farms are also regulated by the Kenya Flower Council (KFC) which protects fair wages and working conditions, and also responsible use of natural resources and pesticides (Ecoligo 2018).
Regarding air pollution, according to Joseph Muchemi, the Kenyan high commissioner to Britain in 2007, said that air-freighted fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables from the whole of sub-Saharan Africa accounted for less than 0.1% of total UK carbon emissions. And, whilst the average Briton emits 9.3 tonnes of carbon a year, in comparison the average Kenyan is responsible for 0.2 tonnes (The Guardian 2007).
Flower farms are also turning to renewable energy. Rift Valley Roses, a flower farm in Naivasha recently installed solar power through a project which could help to save up 68 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year (Floral Daily 2019).
Time will tell whether present efforts to make the flower industry more sustainable will help or whether it is too late. Will switching to solar power help offset water usage?
The flower trade is obviously a huge part of Kenya’s economy and boycotting this would be damaging to the country. Maybe a compromise could be found, reducing ‘dominance’ on imported flowers and buying them less frequently, perhaps favouring seasonal flowers from UK or European growers for most of the time instead? Looking at the African flower trade with a wider ethical lense, might be the way forward. A ‘Fair Trade’ system in the flower industry would make this easier for consumers.
Madadi, V.O., Wandiga, S.O., Ndunda, E.N., Mavuti, K.M., 2017. Organochlorine Pesticides Residues in Lake Naivasha Catchment Water. IJSRET [online]. 3 (5) 2394-4099. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6803/bb4d53471147a31dd2a67d718453933f2901.pdf?_ga=2.188799532.661850905.1582029099-757133520.1582029099
Mekonnen et al 2012: Mekonnen, M.M., Heskstra, A.Y., Becht, R., 2012. Mitigating the Water Footprint of Export Cut Flowers from the Lake Naivasha Basin, Kenya. Water Resources Management [online], 26, 3725 - 3742 (2012) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11269-012-0099-9#Sec4
The Guardian 2007: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2007/feb/14/kenya.conservationandendangeredspecies
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