Thursday, 14 February 2008

An Ethical Valentine’s Day

Passions are rising again this Valentine’s Day. But this time the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) is also getting emotional – with the launch of its shopping for development campaign. In a press statement today, the International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander encouraged “romantics in the UK to buy Kenyan flowers this Valentine’s Day”.

While it is unusual for Her Majesty’s Government to issue Valentine’s Day messages, this one is particularly heart warming as it debunks a whole set of myths that environmental campaign organisations have been peddling to the British public.

As I’ve argued before, there is a lot of nonsense spoken about “food miles”, with campaign groups arguing against buying Kenyan flowers because of the impact that flying them into the UK has on the environment. As the DFID statement says, “It’s important to remember that flowers flown in from Kenya aren’t grown in heated greenhouses so they use less energy than most of those produced in Europe."

Aside from exposing the environmental claims, DFID’s research also highlights the huge importance of the flower trade to Kenya and its workers:

“Kenya is the lead exporter into the European Union of cut flowers, and the world's largest producer of roses. International demand for Kenyan flowers accounts for almost 10% of the total income it receives from exports. By meeting demand for roses used on 14 February, exporters earn more than from the rest of the year's sales combined. Between 40,000 and 70,000, about 75% of them women, are employed on Kenyan flower farms, and indirectly 1.5 million are employed.”
Buying products from Africa is a way in which everyone can make a direct and sustainable contribution to poverty reduction in Africa. In a statement last year, Business Action for Africa, welcomed the boom in fair trade, but called for the world trading arrangements to be made fair too. African’s don’t want charity, they want a fair opportunity to grow their business and trade their way out of poverty. By highlighting that, the DFID Valentine’s message is a welcome one.

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