Sending flowers has become the easy way to respond to every social situation: thank you’s, apologies, birthdays, seductions, mother’s day, valentine’s day... But when you start to think about where the flowers come from and at what cost, this begins to sound like a bad idea. The first problem is the vast amount of water that these huge flower farms use—more than 80,000 litres a day. Many of the growers are in African countries, such as Kenya, where the local people are suffering from droughts and lack of pure water, whilst the farmers are diverting it to grow over 52 million tons of flowers. Then there are the pesticides—since we all want pure, unblemished flowers to send to our sweeties, farmers are using lots of toxic chemicals and fumigants to kill off bugs. These chemicals may end up as poisoned groundwater and contaminated subsoils.
The flower farm workers are often not protected against the chemicals which are easily inhaled, particularly while working in poorly ventilated greenhouses. For example, two thirds of Colombian flower workers suffer from pesticide-related problems. Workers are paid very poorly and child labour is rampant—the ILO (International Labour Organisation) of the UN estimates that 48,000 children work on flower farms in 2 Ecuadorian provinces alone. Only 3 companies out of hundreds in Ecuador are unionised. Then there are the air miles. Roses are flown 5,500 miles from South America, orchids 6,000 from Thailand. All in all—grow your own, or try some FairTrade chocolates instead. :: The Ecologist