Paper on Impact of Floriculture Industry on the Environment

The impact of human habits on the natural environment cannot be understated. As Richard Manning observes, humans consume 40% of the earth’s primary productivity (37). The mentioned percentage partly accounts for the high rate of species extinction, which today stands at over 1000 times that which was observed before humans dominated the planet. Other than the high rate of consumption, people also cause environmental degradation through industries, which are responsible for fumes, chemical effluents, and emission of chlorofluorocarbons. The resulting depletion of the ozone layer has been directly linked with climate change, the melting of the earth’s ice reserves, and the rise of ocean levels. One industry whose impact on the environment has often been overlooked is the cut-flower (floriculture) industry. The industry negatively affects the environment through its water consumption; water, air, and soil pollution; and land cover change. The benefits of the cut-flower industry are negligible compared to the harm the industry causes to the environment. The continued production of flowers, known as floriculture, is not sustainable in its present form.

The floriculture industry emerged in 19th Century England before expanding to Europe and the United States in the 20th Century. Today, the sector is valued at an estimated $33billion, with the Netherlands, United States, and Japan accounting for the largest markets. Although the Netherlands is responsible for just 10% of the total flowers production, the country accounts for 60% of the global export of flowers. In the past three decades, the production of flowers has shifted to tropical countries, where the cost of production is minimal and the rate of production is consistent due to the favorable climate. These countries include Ecuador, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

Minimal standards have been put in place to regulate the industry and enforcement of existing regulations is not strict. According to Kathleen Buckingham, the main reason for the loose regulatory status of this industry is that flowers are not edible; thus they are exempt from regulations on pesticide residues. Pesticides play a significant role in maintaining the freshness of flowers, which aggravates their usage. Buckingham adds that up to 20% of the chemicals used in floriculture in developing nations are either banned or untested in the United States. Until 2015, the deadline for enforcing the Montreal Protocol of 1987, there was continued use of Methyl Bromide (as a pesticide) in the production of flowers. Methyl Bromide is a toxic gas whose short-term inhalation can cause damage to human lungs, while long-term inhalation can contribute to neurological complications (Kuiper and Gemählich 49). Methyl Bromide is also directly linked with depletion of the ozone layer (Kuiper and Gemählich 50). The gas, which is five times more potent than carbon dioxide, has an Ozone-Depletion Potential of 0.6 (Buckingham). Only 0.1% of a pesticide is absorbed by plants, with the remaining 99.9% being dispersed in the air, which causes air pollution (Gudeta 41).

Another aspect of pollution associated with the cut-flower industry is the water and soil pollution that results from the farming practice. Flower farms use a range of fertilizers and other agrochemicals that wash off into the ground and water bodies. The result is that the water becomes concentrated with these chemicals, posing a threat to marine life as well as the ecosystem that rely on these water bodies. In some instances, when solid fertilizers are washed into water bodies, the process of eutrophication occurs, causing severe damage to the marine ecosystem. This further threatens the livelihoods of the people who rely on these water bodies for sustenance (Kuiper and Gemählich 46). The other inevitable consequence of floriculture is the deterioration of the top layer of soil that is used to farm the flowers. When subjected to fertilizers and chemicals, this layer of soil loses its natural fertility and becomes incapable of supporting organisms that are crucial in breaking down organic matter (Degytnu 47). This issue is aggravated by the fact that floriculture has a short-cycle of production, which implies that agrochemicals and fertilizers have to be used intensively to support the desired level of production. With the changing soil texture, fertility, and acid value, the land ultimately becomes sterile (Degytnu 47).

The other issue linked with floriculture is its intensive use of water resources. Up to 90% of flower make-up is water, thus the exportation of flowers is considered as the shipping of virtual water (Degytnu 46; Buckingham). The exportation of virtual water has been blamed for inflicting stress on water-stressed countries. For instance, in Kenya, floriculture accounts for 45% of the country’s virtual water exports, with the source of irrigation water (Lake Naivasha) being extensively strained every year because surrounding communities struggle to access clean water, especially during the dry seasons (Kuiper and Gemählich 33). Although floriculture produces the highest economic return per unit of water exported, Kenya has invested minimally in water-intense crops, such as maize, and thus lacks food security. A similar situation is evident in Ethiopia where rivers and lakes have lost their natural capacity to refill due to high water consumption by the farming of cut-flowers. Undoubtedly, water is fundamental in supporting the earth’s ecosystem. Consequently, it is pertinent that it be used sustainably to mitigate the risk of future scarcity.

The dangerous trends evident in the floriculture industry are aligned with the challenges of sustainability. Rees observes that cities depend largely on distant parts of the planet for sustenance – a challenge linked with the floriculture industry as most of the flowers produced in rural areas of developing countries end up in the large cities (302). Given that the production of cut-flowers is unsustainable, it is time that the ecological footprint of the people who use these flowers is contained. To achieve the mentioned objective, bioregions should be delineated so that the flowers needed in New York are produced within the city. This would limit the negative impact on the resources of surrounding impoverished region where the necessary regulations are barely enforced. Just as the campaigns against cigarettes have been beneficial in bringing down the rate of cigarette smoking in recent years, it is critical that awareness be raised on the unsustainability of the floriculture sector to bring down the demand for cut-flowers. Governments, especially those of developing nations, ought to play their part by ensuring that farmers strictly comply with environmental standards to limit the harm inflicted on the environment. Governments of cut-flowers destinations ought to impose heavy taxes to limit the demand for flowers, thus discourageing the farming practice.



Works Cited

Buckingham, Kathleen. “Love Hurts: Environmental Risk in the Cut-Flower Industry.” Asia         and the Pacific Society. Apps Policy Forum, 2016.

Degytnu, Tilahun. Socio-economic and Environmental Impact of Floriculture Industry in   Ethiopia. Diss. MSC Thesis: Ghent University: Belgium, 2012.

Kuiper, Gerda, and Andreas Gemählich. “Sustainability and Depoliticisation: Certifications          in the Cut-Flower Industry at Lake Naivasha, Kenya.” Africa Spectrum vol. 52, no. 3, 2017, pp. 31-53.

Manning, Richard. “The oil we eat: following the food chain back to Iraq.” Public, 30, 2004.

Rees, William E. “Life in the Lap of Luxury as Ecosystems Collapse.” Chronicle of Higher           Education vol. 30, no.1, pp.1. 1999.