With the precision & harmony of a symphony orchestra, the global floriculture industry involves an intricate, interconnected and interdependent chain of farmers, wholesalers, airlines, cargo ships, traders, florists and supermarkets. To bring you through this floral journey series, we have spoken to florists, wholesalers and more to understand how the global – and local – floriculture world is being changed before our very eyes. This is part 3 of series exploring this world.

Fleurica

Rising Stars Near The Sun…

Floriculture is a booming industry, with global exports of cut flowers estimated at just over USD8 billion. Or rather it was until a few months ago. The flower industry employed thousands upon thousands of people all over the world, all of whom play their part in the seamless orchestra of a flower’s journey from farm to consumer.

This fragmented industry & supply chain is funnelled together by the Dutch Flower Auctions (for more on this visit Part 1 of our Flower Journey series here). Few other industries benefit from such a centralized & global platform. Even wine, that other highly fragmented & valuable commodity journeying from terroir to dinning rooms, does not have a global central platform to set pricing & market sentiment like the Aalsmeer auctions. The Netherlands have been heart of the global cut flowers industry both in trade and production for centuries, but there are rising stars challenging this. Countries were the winter is warmer, the weather less harsh, and plants flower more often throughout the year, such as Ecuador, Colombia, and Kenya have been rapidly rising in importance and competitiveness flower exporters.

Value of Exported Cut Flowers by Countries
Credits: Graphics by Fleurica; Data by BBC

Besides the warmer & sunnier climate making it easier to grow flowers, weather also significantly impacts cost. Maintaining and heating greenhouses during a northern hemisphere winter came at a high cost, exacerbated during the energy crisis of the 1970s.  Flower farms moved southwards where the climate is naturally warmer, with less energy input required year-round for growing. Europe began importing more flowers from Israel, Morocco, and East Africa, while the US diversified its floriculture supplies by trading with Latin America.

Today, studies have also shown that the carbon footprint of flowers grown near the equator is generally lower than those in colder climates. For instance, compared to Dutch roses, greenhouse gas emissions of Kenyan roses are approximately 5.5 times lower and production required 6.5 times less energy.

SOME OLD-FASHIONED THINGS LIKE FRESH AIR AND SUNSHINE ARE HARD TO BEAT

Flower farms at Lake Naivasha. Photo credits: Dutch Water Sector

The ideal conditions to maximize the flower growing and blooming season are found in the mountains of equatorial countries. They benefit from maximum hours of sunlight , as well as vast areas of high altitude, contributing to cool nights and a lack of insects found at lower elevations. The temperature rarely reaches freezing point, a real danger for a rose farm. These factors, coupled with fertile soil and fresh water, create an optimal climate for high quality plants & flowers to grow. In addition, flower production is highly labour intensive and the abundance of labour as well as lower labour costs contribute to the rise of these flower growing countries.

ACTIVE GOVERNMENT POLICIES TO BOOST FLORICULTURE

Governments have also seen the tremendous potential of floriculture to support local employment and boost the local economy.  Through measures such as improving logistics infrastructure, subsidies or tax benefits for the flower industry, countries have actively pursued this type of farming, and supported the growth of small farms to compete on a global scale.

Cut flowers are now Kenya’s second largest export after tea, contributing around 1% of the country’s GDP. Floriculture is also country’s largest source of employment, with over 100,000 people working directly in the flower industry and an estimated two million indirectly.

Flower farms in Colombia yield $1 billion in exports annually. Photo credits: Ivan Kashinsky

SMALL FARMS BECOME BIG PLAYERS

Flower farms are local businesses, dependent on many factors not within their control; levels of rain, sunshine, storms & strong winds, outdoor temperatures & more. For flower farms dealing in premium roses, every bud, every stem is a valuable asset. Long stem roses take more time to grow for their stems to reach their elegant length.

Demand for Kenyan flowers has spurred the growth and expansion of Tambuzi Flower Farm, amongst others, in Kenya. The farm has grown from 20 people when they first started to over 500 people across three sites today. On average, it produces approximately 8 million flowers annually, in over 80 different varieties. Roses from Tambuzi’s farms are exported all over the world, including to Singapore.

A DELICATE SYMPHONY

The cut flowers industry is a dynamic but fragmented industry,  with independent, interconnected, but interdependent players who all need to play their part for the orchestra to perform the symphony. One missing part and the entire system is compromised. From flower farming, to ‘cold chain’ transport logistics, to auctions & wholesalers,  hundreds of businesses, big and small, employ thousands of people who each contribute to bringing flowers to florists, and ultimately to you.

The next time you buy a bouquet from your local artisan florist, you’re supporting local in Singapore and also in a global context.