Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, February 05, 2007

Giant Cuts Back on Kenya’s Cut Flowers

The U.K.‘s retailing behemoth plans to trim its imports, and African flower sellers are reeling at the news.

imageFlowers at Tesco superstore

Newmarket Rd.

Cambridge, England

Photo (detail): John Levett

Tesco is to the U.K. what Wal-Mart is to the USA, the place to buy everything but a tooth extraction.  The giant retailer recently lowered the boom on foreign suppliers of cut flowers, announcing that it would be importing less than 1% of its merchandise. Tesco has been importing 2-3% of what it sells.

Outcry came immediately from traders in sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya now sends 23% of its exports to the U.K., primarily “strawberries, green beans and a wide variety of flowers.” And those exports have been on the rise. 

Who knows what Tesco’s real motivations are? probably a mix of cost-saving and face-saving. The company says its goal is ecological: to reduce its “carbon ‘footprint,’ recycle more, cut packaging and reduce airfreight.” Great Britain’s other three major supermarkets are moving in the same direction; all have been criticized for the high environmental price of all those freight planes.

Tesco does 80% of its business in the U.K., with 1779 stores and “over 250,000” employees.” Our correspondent in Cambridge, John Levett braved one of the superstores to take a few flower photos “before being politely asked to leave!” he tells us. “Must have been the flack jacket & fatigues that alerted management!”

imageCambridge’s Newmarket Rd. Tesco store

Photo: John Levett

Even before being ushered out with his camera, John—a photographer, writer, gardener, and cook—didn’t think too highly of the place. He wrote us,  “My take on Tesco basically applies to all supermarkets. On both the supply & demand side they squeeze out local producers, standardize everything, demand excessive packaging, dominate Third World producers, mask ingredients, market tasteless fruit & veg, charge premium prices for products distinguished by their presentation alone, exploit children, take little heed of nutritional research,”  (don’t hold back now, John), “buy prime land & sit on it until planning permission is granted by cash-strapped local councils, create transport bottlenecks surrounding in-town/edge-of-town locations, generate environmental problems surrounding out-of-town locations, create their own pricing policies for suppliers thus affecting wage levels detrimentally for low wage/non-unionised (often immigrant) labour, create environmental damage by shipping-in practices,” (on point for this post) “adhere often in word only to guidelines on sustainability in developing countries…etc. “

imagePhoto: ‘Camo’ John Levett

Since he stopped shoping there, only “snapping,” he writes, “my food bill has fallen by 25%, I cook more, I buy more fresh fruit & veg from local markets, I think more about what I eat, I rarely buy packaged/processed meals (gotta have a crap meal sometime!), I’m less stressed in shopping, not having to negotiate aisles/listen to piped music/queue/respond to bland manager-initiated greetings at the checkout/increase my alienation from organic society & the unity of humanity with the natural world (or something like that).”

Many thanks, John, for sending these pictures and for boiling over and down the problems with big-box merchandizers.

What gets sticky, though, is that these realities mean very little to most people in Africa. The Kenya Flower Council is just wondering what it’s going to do with all the roses and gerberas now cooking under the African sun.

Another break between African flower producers and European flower consumers widened this week in Germany. Reportedly “millions of dollars worth” of blooms from Zimbabwe were banned and sent back south because their packaging didn’t meet German environmental standards.

Europe’s heightened environmental concerns don’t seem to square with the problems or outlooks of more newly-industrialized nations. According to reporters Paul Redfern, and Wachira Kang, “The per capita contribution of pollution by Europe is more than 22 per cent to Africa’s 1.2 per cent.” Just so, Jane Ngige, an official of the Kenyan Flower Council, dismissed the environmental costs of flying flower-laden planes to England. “If you look at the proportion of our contribution to ozone layer depletion,” she said, “it’s nothing compared to that of Europe.”


Posted by Julie on 02/05 at 09:00 PM
Culture & SocietyCut-Flower TradeEcologyPoliticsPermalink

Sunday, February 04, 2007

By the Letter of E.U. Law

Slovenia’s first Euro-priced stamps say ecology and solidarity, with wildflowers.

imageCarniolan Primrose

(Primula carniolica)

Photo: Posta Slovenije

As of January 1, 2007, Slovenia switched from the tolar to the Euro, (rather a pity when you see the fine fish on the obverse of the tolar coin).

Slovenia’s first stamps issued with Euro prices are a set of 17 native ferns and wildflowers, among them the Adulterated Spleenwort, Adriatic Lizard Orchid, and lovely Carniolan Primrose, a flower that grows “exclusively” here.

The wild plants weren’t an innocuous choice of mere joiners; they aren’t “just pretty” but affirm Slovenia’s commitment to the European Union’s Habitats Directive, “the EU’s single most important legal tool for biodiversity conservation.”

imageMeadow Squill (Scilla litardierei)

Photo: Posta Slovenije

The Directive specifies a network of sites throughout Europe—called Natura 2000—that most critically warrant protection, as they are habitats for endangered plants and animals.  “Slovenia is home” to 27 of these rare plants, 7 of them endemic.  Bertoloni Columbine (Aquilegia bertolonii) “can only be found in the Trnovo forest and in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps.” Meadow Squill (Scilla litardierei) now grows only in “the Planinsko polje. Its population is threatened by fertilisation, on the one hand, and the abandonment of grassland mowing, on the other.”

Slovenia joined the European Union in March 2004. Now with the Euro as its currency, it becomes a more fluid trade-partner. These flower stamps—the work of artist Julija Zornik—announce Slovenia’s allegiance also to the E.U. as a force for conservation. Natura 2000 may have the muscle to enforce protections for the few wild places remaining in Europe, a continent worn after many centuries of human building, fertilizing, fighting, and paving.

Posted by Julie on 02/04 at 10:04 PM
Art & MediaEcologyPoliticsPermalink

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Climate Change/Consensus Gentian

A panel of scientists from across the world now concurs with a blue mountain flower.


Change in global average temperatures 1961-1990

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

It’s taken six years and several hundred scientists to authorize what many hundreds of species (even some humans) have been saying for awhile now. Climate change is real, we caused it, and it’s not going away.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its report yesterday. Here’s the summary in full and, below, a few blinding low lights.

* “Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years. The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.”

* “The understanding of anthropogenic (people-caused) warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the Third Assessment Report, leading to very high confidence that the globally averaged net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming. At continental, regional, and ocean basin scales, numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed. These include changes in Arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones.”

* “Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.”

* “Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the timescales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized.”

The synopsis: We’ve caused the world to heat up with our cars, industries. and mega-agriculture. It’s causing violent weather, changing the level and chemistry of the oceans, and bringing drought. It’s all getting worse. And even if we change our ways, it won’t get better FOR CENTURIES.

Here’s one of hundreds of stories that appeared today in Canada and earlier stories from England and China and Australia.

imageAlpine gentian

(Gentiana Acaulis L.)

Photo: Rolland Douzet, Jardin Botanique Alpin du Lautaret

Last year, we started seeing stories from the European Alps about bears that couldn’t fall asleep for the winter. Alexandra Zawadil‘s article for Reuters reported that sales for winter clothes were off, and “meteorologists have recorded the azure trumpet-shaped Alpine gentian flower as high as 1,100 metres (3,609 ft) in the Austrian Alps, and the vernal forsythia in some valleys.” That was early December. The beautiful Alpine gentian normally blooms in April.

Last evening we had dinner with a brilliant scholar who complained that in his field—the law—theory possessed a dangerous upper hand over empirical study and legal practice. The same imbalance has tilted our approach to (and denial of) climate change. Broken ice, untimely bird migrations, and the too-early blooming of flowers have been noted by research scientists and backyard naturalists for years. How do we aggregate all these observations by people who are on the front lines of ecology and speak truth to money, abstraction, and fantasy?




Posted by Julie on 02/03 at 02:42 PM
Culture & SocietyEcologySciencePermalink

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Afghan Poppies: Poison, Plow, or Look the Other Way

While national and international leaders haggle over how to handle the opium poppy, Afghanistan supplies 90% of the world’s heroin.


Cartoon: Pete Nicholson

2007 is shaping up as Afghanistan’s biggest year ever for opium poppies. The United Nations has reported that last year production rose almost 50%, and with ongoing confusion about how (or whether) to eradicate the fields, the 2007 crop should be even poppier.

An excellent story by Syed Saleem Shahzad for Asia Times reports 6200 tonnes of opium came out of Afghanistan last year, “to supply more than 90% of the world’s heroin.” Shahzad’s story describes how local officials, farmers, and a mafia-style network of distributors handle the flower drug. A British anti-narcotics officer in Afghanistan told Shahzad that any significant change would take three to five years to show results. “In Thailand,” he said, “it took 30 years to make counter-narcotics operations successful.”

Why? In part because opium production drives a third of the Afghan economy. Farmers say they can make 30 times more growing poppies than, say, wheat.

Also, authorities have very different ideas about how to reduce the poppy crop. The U.S. is pressing for a Colombia-style drenching with herbicides. But Afghan president Hamid Karzai has said he won’t allow spraying, because of its risks to human, animal and other plant life. Karzai advocates a low-tech eradication, with plows and trampling feet.

Now, we learn, Dutch troops stationed in Urguzan province have been told to ignore Karzai’s order. Dutch Development Cooperation Minister Agnes van Ardenne has said that destroying the poppy fields by whatever means would “endanger the reconstruction mission.”

Van Ardenne says that the NATO force was called to Afghanistan to stabilize the county. “That’s only possible if the population is working with us,” she said, “but the population won’t do that if people see that we, as it were, are playing along with the game of destroying the income stream, the only income stream of very many farmers.”

For now, it’s looking like a bumper crop. Afghan poppies are harvested in the spring.

Posted by Julie on 02/01 at 03:53 PM
Cut-Flower TradePoliticsPermalink
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