Share the love this Valentine’s day with fairer flowers and chocolates

It’s that time of year when lovers search about for meaningful Valentine’s Day gifts. Fluffy teddy bears that we would never even consider buying start to look like plausible gift options as the 14th draws ever closer and we begin to panic.

Suzanne Fisher's picture
Insight by 
Suzanne Fisher
13 February 2013
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Photo: hownowdesign

While some opt for affordable and different gifts (and then ask for guidance as they struggle to find one that fits the bill) many of us go for the safer options: flowers or a box of chocolates.

Here’s a step by step guide to the issues so you can both impress your lover with lovely blooms or choccies and your new-found knowledge on how to share the love more widely.

Fair miles: Flowers and the air miles debate

There’s been a lot of coverage in the media about the environmental benefits of buying food grown locally. But it turns it isn’t always the most environmentally-friendly choice.

A study cited here suggests that because so much energy is needed to heat greenhouses in winter in our colder climate, ‘buying local’ is not always better. For example, British-grown strawberries and tomatoes created more greenhouses gas emissions than ones grown in Spain.

Spread the love globally: Buy flowers that benefit smallholder farmers

Not only is buying from overseas often the most environmentally-friendly choice. Buying flowers grown in Africa can also mean the difference between a family simply surviving or thriving.

But not all flowers bought from Africa benefit smallholder farmers. In agriculture, supply chains operate in global marketplaces where there is growing competition for raw materials, and where the way the industry is structured can make it difficult for small-scale producers to have direct contact with retailers.

IIED has been working with a commercial team and a small Kenyan flower business, Wilmar Agro Ltd, to export flowers grown by smallholder Kenyan farmers to UK and US supermarkets. Read a day in the life of a commercial consultant, William Van Bragt, who has helped Wilmar Agro Ltd develop and manage a commercially-viable and sustainable supply chain and build a network of contacts and links with other businesses.

The bouquets Van Bragt is helping to get onto the supermarket shelves will carry the Rainforest Alliance Certification seal, which means that 70% of flowers in the bouquet need to be from certified Smallholder Farmers.

Like all things in life, while certification schemes can provide producers with benefits – they are no panacea for poor producers as an IIED report looking at food and cotton certification schemes in Asia showed.

The report found that while Fairtrade certification can act as an important safety net by guaranteeing minimum prices for poor farmers, in some cases the share of retail prices that goes to Fairtrade producers is less than for conventional products. Developing long-term relationships with buyers to secure potentially better returns and greater negotiating power in schemes are some of the key benefits to be gained.

Another recent study examining the impact Fairtrade had on rural development in the following sectors found Kenyan Fairtrade flower plantations fared better than non-Fairtrade farms in areas such as health and safety, access to micro credit, education and training, gender relations and community development. For example, female workers on Fairtrade-certified flower farms enjoyed three months of maternity leave plus one month annual leave, while workers on non-Fairtrade farms didn’t. And a credit scheme (financed with Fairtrade premium money) gave workers access to loans at favourable conditions. But these benefits varied depending on the region and on the Fairtrade products being produced.

362 million stems of Fairtrade flowers are sold globally each year. In the UK alone, they account for only 1% of the total UK flower market, but still generate an estimated £26.5 million in retail sales.

Choccies please

And what about those chocolates? Because cocoa farmers are generally quite poor and their farms aren’t very productive,  unsurprisingly their children often decide to leave the farm for better lives elsewhere. This is clearly unsustainable both for the farmers and the chocoloate manufacturers. And that’s why many key manufacturers such as Hershey, Mars Incorporated and Uniliver are committing to sourcing their cocoa from certified sources.

More than half the world’s cocoa is grown in the west African countries of Côte d’Ivoire (40%) and Ghana (25%). An independent survey, which is cited in this blog, found that Rainforest Alliance certified farms in Côte d'Ivoire “registered as much as 70% more productivity than a control group of non-certified farms”. Where are those improved earnings coming from? Improved farm management.

A New Business Models for Sustainable trade project written about in this IIED report, is helping us better understand how market systems and supply chains can be coupled with training and services to help farmers run more sustainable and profitable businesses long term.  

So, what’s the upshot? Like all things, the picture is more complex than a one line gift card. But by doing your research and buying certified flowers or chocolates you will be sharing the love at home and overseas.

And if you do opt for flowers, care for them and they’ll last longer. Change the water every day and rinse and recut the stems to keep those flowers – and your Valentine – happy.  

Getting serious Valentine? Read our report on the ethical flower agents creating new market opportunities for Kenyan flower suppliers, negotiating the terms of supply, and pushing for flexibility with UK retailers. Or read our report on scaling up farmer participation in West Africa to reverse declining yields and falling supplies of cocoa.