An ecologist from the University of Leicester who has spent over 30 years researching wetland conservation at Lake Naivasha in Kenya has warned that the country is being “bled dry” by the UK’s demand for fresh flowers, and has called on UK supermarkets to show more concern about the health of the natural environment that the flowers come from.
Dr David Harper, of the Department of Biology, University of Leicester, said UK supermarkets should do more than simply sell Fairtrade roses. They should look beyond the farm gate at the sustainability of the natural resource that feeds the flowers - Lake Naivasha.
He said: “A notable few of the farmers sending roses to Europe are showing concern and an eagerness to pioneer a sustainable way forward: the best flower farms have achieved Fairtrade status, which brings money back into the workforce for social welfare improvements. Two farms have even seconded senior managers to help Kenya's water management agency at Naivasha.”
Hewarned that increased UK supermarket promotions of flowers over Valentine’s Day, and subsequently on Mother’s Day, without showing concern about where or how environmentally sustainable roses can be grown, will just increase the export of water – the scarcest natural resource in Kenya.
“There are just a few good farms but many more that don’t care how much damage they do to the lake. Seventy percent of the roses sold in European supermarkets come from Kenya and the majority of those are from Naivasha, many thus coming without any ecological certification. This has to change for the future of the industry as well as the lake and the country,” said Dr Harper.
Switzerland is the only country in Europe that cares about selling environmentally sustainable Kenyan roses, says Dr Harper, because the Swiss Coop – its largest supermarket - recycles some of its profits to fund sustainability projects at the lake.
He said: “Over the past 20 years, Lake Naivasha has been seriously degraded by over-abstraction of water. The blame has invariably been put onto flower farmers, who use irrigation to grow the roses that adorn the vases in our homes - especially on Valentine's Day and Mother's Day.