Valentine’s Day could mark the last the flower industry in Kenya is subjected to attacks by environmentalists and human rights activists.
This follows the launch of a series of activities to implement the National Compliance Mechanism (NCM) that seeks to bring all growers under a strict code of conduct that will see violators denied export licenses.
“This is one of the best things to happen in the flower industry”, said Kenya Flower Council CEO Jane Ngige, adding that the farms with questionable practices have earned the sector a bad name costing millions of shillings in damage control.
The anti-flower campaigns have traditionally gained momentum on Valentine’s Day, marked on February 14 when the world celebrates love, and the day is considered the single most important in the flower business, in which more flowers are sold than the rest of the year combined.
The most recent campaigns have seen demonstrations against the country’s flowers in Europe spearheaded by a Dutch human rights group, Hivos, urging consumers to boycott produce grown in worker abusive environments. Incidentally, the NCM is being funded by the Netherlands to the tune of Ksh 34 million (390,000).
The project, expected to be operational by end of the year, brings together a team comprising of both the Kenya and Netherlands governments and the industry associations, whose steering committee is chaired by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service managing director James Onsando.
Members are drawn from the Dutch embassy, the Horticultural Crops Development Authority, National Environment Management Authority, the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (Fpeak), the Kenya Flower Council (KFC), and the department of Occupational Health and Safety (Ministry of Labour).
The project will be supervised by the two industry associations – KFC and Fpeak, both of who have over the years developed codes of standards that are used to certify respective members who are audited for compliance with export market requirements on environmental and worker welfare stewardship.
The National Compliance Mechanism is not a new standard, but an initiative to operationalize and upgrade the Kenya Standard (KS) 1758, that was established in 2009 to guide the industry practices, but which has not been implemented.
The National Horticulture Taskforce will supervise the enforcement of the mechanism that falls under the Kenya Bureau of Standards.
“Once the mechanism comes into force at the end of the project, every exporter must obtain a compliance certificate without which they will not be allowed to ship produce out of the country,” Mrs Ngige said.
Mrs Ngige disclosed that human rights and environmental activists will be roped in to help identify farms that are not complying so that in future, violators will be individually held responsible for malpractices instead of condemning the entire industry as has happened in the past.
Reports released by the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) last year citing violations of responsible practices by some 15 unnamed farms have been used by Hivos to mount a campaign against Kenya’s flowers.
The commission’s executive director Atsango Chesoni says that despite positive strides in improving the practices of the cut flower industry over the past decade, the sector is mostly in the news for all the wrong reasons, because some farms are still operating with reckless abandon, exposing workers to dangerous chemicals, violating labour laws and causing irreparable damage to the environment.
She says the violations must be contained, requiring that government and the private sector work together. She adds there has not been any serious attempt in the past to enforce legal requirements governing responsible practices in the flower industry, leaving the industry to its own designs. This is what the NCM seeks to address as it is a public-private initiative.
According to Hans Wolff, Counsellor for Economy, Agriculture and Innovation, who repreents the Dutch government at the NCM steering committee, the European nation is the world’s leading marketer of flowers most of which come from Kenya requiring that the sector is managed responsibly.
“ Buyers have
increasingly become critical of the conditions under which flowers are grown especially practices touching on worker safety, labour, remuneration and environment,’’ he said.
Under a number of labels such as the Fair Trade, the consumers are prepared to pay a premium for flowers that are certified as coming from farms that have put in measures to take care of the above concerns, according to Mrs Isabelle Spindler the managing director of Red Lands Roses, one of the most successful flower growers and whose produce is selling at four times more, due to what she describes as a deliberate strategy to put in more investment in workers and environment. Redlands, based in Ruiru grows its flowers in soilless technology known as hydroponics, enabling it to use less chemicals and creating a safer climate for workers and environment. “Using fewer chemicals produces a healthier plant, keeps the worker healthier and the environment is safer for all,’’ she said.
Her sentiments are shared by Hermish Ker, the business development manager at the Naivasha-based Oserian farm that made history by developing the world’s largest geothermal powered greenhouse, a technology he says is safer for environment and workers because it helps contain diseases by keeping temperatures at the optimum through clean energy minimizing application of chemicals. Oserian is also Fairtrade certified.
Ms Chesoni says that although there are both public and private tools governing regulation of the industry in the areas of labour standards, use, protection and stewardship of natural resources, persistent reports and concerns raised in the public space suggest that more work on the robustness and thorough implementation of regulatory systems needs to take root.
“Currently, compliance is not harmonious and does not capture all exporters while the private sector does not work effectively with the regulatory arms of government to enforce the regulations”, she said.
The KHRC has called for adequate funding for the Ministry of Labour, that does not have sufficient resources for supervision, according to the commission.
The flower industry in Kenya is one of the most important sectors that last year earned the country some Ksh 44 billion ($500 million), up from Ksh 36 billion ($413 million) in 2011. It is estimated to create employment for 500,000 people in the production value chain.
For further information; contact Mrs Jane Ngige, CEO Kenya Flower Council: 0720692477