The human cost of Kenya’s cut flower industry
The bouquets of roses and carnation that brighten flower markets in New York, Amsterdam and Tokyo conceal grim tales of poor farm workers in Kenya who grow the buds for a rich export industry. In farms clustered around scenic Lake Naivasha in Kenya's Rift Valley region, workers explain how they work long hours and are exposed to harmful pesticides with no form of protection. International organisations also oppose the export industry, saying that drought-prone Africans have a greater need for the large volumes of water that it takes to grow the flowers exported to overseas shoppers. Kimani Mwaniki spends his working day pushing cartloads of freshly cut flowers from the fields to the grading bay.
The 1.5 km route takes him through the area where the flowers are sprayed with pesticides, but he has no face mask or protective clothing. Jobs outside the flower industry are scarce in this region of 300,000 people, which has evolved into the centre of Kenya's flower trade. There are nearly 50 flower farms in the Rift Valley region, about 220 km northwest of Nairobi, the majority around the lake. Kenya exported 80,000 tonnes of flowers in 2005, raking in a handsome US$350 million. The major portion of the exports is to the Netherlands, and the rest go to the United Kingdom, Germany, France, South Africa.