Americans and Europeans have an enduring passion for flowers. Since the mid-1980s, growers in the tropics, from Latin America to Africa, have been increasing their production of roses, carnations and other blooms to meet the growing demand in the United States and Europe. Ninety percent of the cut flowers and ferns imported into the United States come from Colombia, Ecuador or other Latin American countries, and Kenya provides one-quarter of the European Union's bouquets. Those roses you bought for your valentine were probably raised in a rainforest country, and many of the ferns which envelop flower bouquets are grown in Costa Rica and Guatemala.
The rapid growth of the floriculture industry has created welcome jobs in Latin America. Sales of the smooth, dark-green fern known as "leatherleaf" bring in $52 million annually to Costa Rica, where fern farms employ 6,000 people at salaries above the rural average. In Kenya, flower production has become the second-largest source of foreign exchange, behind tea and ahead of coffee.
However, flower cultivation has very often come at the expense of healthy ecosystems—and the well-being of workers and surrounding communities.
Flower and fern growers tend to use liberal doses of agrochemicals—and because flowers are not food, governments do not impose restrictions on pesticide use. With only weak government controls, pesticide and fertilizer use on flower farms can threaten the health of workers and neighbors as well as local drinking-water supplies. In many cases, the governments of importing countries require extensive pesticide usage to ensure flowers are free of pests.
Cultivating Earth-Friendly Flowers
Through a four-year-long process of research, experimentation and field trials, the Rainforest Alliance and its partners in the Sustainable Agriculture Network, a consortium of leading environmental groups in Latin America, developed standards for responsible flower and fern farm management.
The standards protect ecosystems and wildlife habitats, conserve water and soil, promote decent and safe working conditions and ensure that the farms are good neighbors to rural communities and wildlands.