Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Short-Cut Economics: Uganda’s Flowers

Flower firms in Uganda are close to gaining big tax-incentives for their industry, but who’ll really benefit?


Roses grown for export on a Uganda farm

Photo: M. Herricks/Chemonics

Flower exports from Uganda have been gaining strength over the last dozen years.  “The climate conditions around Lake Victoria suit the production of sweetheart and intermediate roses,” writes FlowerTech. Farther west, at higher altitudes, the larger, pricier roses grow well, too. Exports grew at an annual average of 25%  for seven years.  In 2005, there were 22 flower firms here with combined foreign exchange earnings of $35 million U.S dollars.

But recently, Uganda’s flower fortunes have been backsliding. Blame the weather. Blame the high cost of freight. Or, as the nation’s flower firm leaders are wont to do, blame the Ugandan government for failing to meet or exceed the financial breaks that other African nations have given their own flower companies.

Back in 2005, Uganda’s growers voiced alarm as they saw Ethiopia’s government stepping up efforts to attract flower businesses—sponsoring guided tours for Dutch investors, promising easy contracts and ready utilities, as well as generous “tax-holidays.” With harder times for Uganda’s growers, pleas for federal help have increased, and it now looks as if the government will comply.

“This week, President Yoweri Museveni told the growers during a meeting at State House in Nakasero that the issue was resolved and the government would grant them full incentives by July.”

The Uganda Flower Exporters Association has asked for “a 10-year tax holiday, a duty-free tax holiday for capital equipment, raw materials and other resources, and exemptions from withholding tax, value added tax and stamp duty.” Quite a hefty subsidy, and one that about matches neighboring Kenya’s arrangement.

Predictions? “The new package is expected to boost the industry’s annual earnings by 80 million dollars in two years. The sector will expand to 600 hectares from 210 by encouraging new investments and more people to invest in high-altitude rose- growing. It will also employ 20,000 people from the current 6,000.”

(Some other promising news, under an agreement reached last July between the National Union of Plantation and Agricultural Workers and the Uganda Flower Exporters Association, flower workers have been able legally to organize. And last month, they did so. Workers at Rosebud, one of Uganda’s biggest flower farms, formed a union.)

imageWorkers at Uganda’s Fresh Handling Ltd.

hustle flowers through cold storage

Photo: DGL Felo, via USAID

The new boost for Uganda’s flower industry all sounds so lucrative, so legislated-for-success, one wonders why it didn’t happen sooner. But that’s because no one ever prices out the opportunities lost under such schemes. What if Uganda had decided to put investments of the same scale into health care, into education? Would more people realize a greater benefit? Who owns these Ugandan farms and export firms? Will the big winners in this arrangement be the people of Uganda or investors from abroad?

Government incentives that support low-wage, low-tech industries should always get BS-detectors clicking. Take the example, writer Bill Bishop suggests, of Mississippi in the 1930s. Its state government decided to invest in low wage industries like lumber. And look at the result. Rural Mississippi is now one of the poorest and worst educated regions of the U.S.

“We need to match the incentives that Kenya and Ethiopia have put in place if we are to compete,” stressed Juliet Musoke, of the Uganda Flower Exporters Association. But, Ms. Musoke, you may have entered the Great International Mississippi Look-Alike Contest.

Posted by Julie on 03/27 at 03:26 PM
Cut-Flower TradePoliticsPermalink

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bread and Tulips

Suicide? Adultery? The Italians manage to keep it all light, by ducking into a Venetian flower shop.


Bruno Ganz bereft in Venice

in Pane e Tulipani

Its blooms still look fresh, even though Pane e Tulipani (Bread and Tulips) came out in 2000.

Directed by Silvio Soldini, this film was a huge hit and prize-winner in Italy, but in the U.S. we missed it. About that time, everyone here was engrossed with another film of flowers and a sick marriage: American Beauty.

What a difference between them! In the Italian movie Bruno Ganz gives a wonderfully soulful performance as Fernando Girasole (get it?), a desperate and sad restaurant owner whom love brings back to life. We won’t ruin the plot for you; let’s just say that the steed our hero rides off on/in is a florist’s delivery van.

As for American Beauty, we’ve never understood why audiences found Lester Burnham, Kevin Spacey’s self-pitying creep, at all sympathetic. We were rooting the whole time for his bitchy real-estate-saleslady wife, Annette Bening, only to discover when the lights came up she was the villain. Oops!

imageFermo, florist and anarchist

played by Felice Andreasi

in Pane e Tulipani

Bread and Tulips also accords the pleasure of several scenes in a Venetian flower shop. Our leading lady, Licia Maglietta (Rosalba), takes a job there, working for irascible Fermo, played with fine crust by Felice Andreasi. Just our sort of florist, Fermo is scandalized by someone who chooses iris for an anniversary. “What! Are you a monarchist!” he shrieks. Like all true florists, Fermo has firm views about which flowers suit each occasion. (Narcissus for a new mother….)

Working for this generous anarchist, Rosalba also returns to her dingy apartment every night with something beautiful—birds of paradise, roses, chrysanthemums. Fussy flower marketers would do well to note the transformative effect of tulips under a bare light bulb.

One stateside critic called of Bread and Tulips, “sweet, dopey, predictable, and still charming” ...all of that. And, unless you live in Italy, likely not checked out at the video store.

Posted by Julie on 03/26 at 08:54 PM
Art & MediaFloristsPermalink

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Damas de Blanco: With Pink Swords

The families of jailed dissidents in Cuba raise high the gladiolus.


Ladies in White, 3/18/07, Havana, Cuba

in their 4th year of Sunday demonstrations

Photo: Carlos Serpa Maciera, via Free Thoughts

We are all prisoners on this island,” said Katia Martin.

Martin is one of Havana’s Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), the mothers, sisters, and wives of Cuban dissidents who were jailed four years ago in a notorious crackdown by Castro’s government.

Last Sunday marked four years since the arrests of the 27 journalists, librarians, and democracy advocates, some of whom were sentenced to 28 years in prison following peaceful protests.

It also marked the fourth year that the Damas de Blanco have gathered at the Santa Rita de Casia Church for mass, prayed the rosary, and then marched ten blocks to a nearby park. As is their tradition, the women all wore white and each carried a pink gladiolus bloom. This weekly floral act of defiance is “one of the few regular anti-government demonstrations on the island.”

Journalist Carlos Serpa Maciera took these photographs of the Ladies on March 18, 2007, passing out their flowers en route.

imageDamas de Blanco

Photo: Voz Catolica

Why gladiolus? We aren’t sure. This site chronicling many activities of pro-democracy groups across Cuba, notes that March 21, 2004, one year after the arrests, The Ladies in White “attended a special mass held for Cuban political prisoners at 5:00 p.m. at the Santa Rita church. Following the mass, they held a roll call in the churchyard and then made an offering of 75 gladioluses to Santa Rita. Upon mentioning the name of each political prisoner, a gladiolus was planted in moistened earth.”

We’ve found many photographs of Damas de Blanco marching with this striking flower, usually pinks blooms. Here are the Ladies in late March 2005,  also the year pro-Castro forces tried to disrupt the floral vigil.

Laura Pollan described the confrontation and asserted, “We remained firm and did not back down in the face of an enraged mob which shouted slogans and obscenities at us. We remained there, and the only weapons in our hands were flowers and palms, because it was Palm Sunday.”

The gladiolus – gladiolo, in Spanish – comes from the Latin word for “sword” (think gladiator). Thus, it adds to the Ladies’ peaceful demonstrations an edge of symbolic ferocity. By carrying pink gladiolus, like exclamation points, they alert us not to miss the message.

In contemporary Cuba, standing up and speaking out require courage. Organizing and demonstrating every week for four years under these conditions is true power. Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote of Damas de Blanco, “Their show of resistance impressed a people who were conditioned to cower.”

By choosing the pink gladiolus, the Ladies in White further feminize their appeal. Miriam Leiva, a founding member of the group, explains, “This movement of the Cuban civil society does not have a political nature, ideological preferences or confessional exclusions. We do not challenge and we’re not a party. We have neither a spokeswoman nor a hierarchy. We are the voices of the 75 innocent prisoners of conscience, imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003, and our families. We have suffered much, but we harbor neither hatred nor resentment.” What but a flower can convey all that?

imageCheering with their signature flower

Photo: La Nueva Cuba

Here’s an account of the March 19 protest in 2006. And here’s a short video about the group.

In October 2005 the Ladies in White were awarded The Sakharov Price for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.

After hearing of the award, group member Gisela Delgado, whose husband was among the 75 dissidents arrested in 2003, said,  ‘“This afternoon we will attend mass in the Santa Rita church to give thanks to the Virgin Mary, who has been a support for us in these difficult years.” Another activist pointed to a vase nearby, “This bouquet of white gladiolus is for her (the Virgin Mary).”

The Ladies in White shared the $60,000 EU award with Nigerian lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim and Reporters Without Borders, based in France.

Castro barred the women from leaving Cuba to accept their prize.



Posted by Julie on 03/25 at 03:41 PM
PoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Aggie Bluebonnet

Only a Texas Aggie would dream of changing the color of the state flower, and only an Aggie could pull it off.


Texas A&M’s Dominique Kirk (22) sailed for

the basket against Memphis last night. The

Aggies lost 64-65 but return home to a floral

consolation prize

Photo: David J. Phillip, for AP

Texas A&M is out of the NCAA basketball tournament, losing by one point to Memphis in the final three seconds of play last night.  But really, most people never figured they’d ever get even this far. That’s because Texas A&M = FOOTBALL, and all that comes with it—bonfires, monster mums, and the 12th Man (the Aggie fans’ tradition of standing up for the duration of every game just in case they’re needed on the field).

Anyone who’s been within 10 miles of a Texas A&M alumnus knows that Aggie spirit will not, cannot be contained. To wit: the grit of A&M men’s basketball coach Billy Gillispie, who with several legions of red-ass support has turned the university’s lackluster program into one of national respectability. New York Times sportswriter Pete Thamel must have just fallen off the commuter train to insinuate, as the headline of his Gillispie profile puts it, “Coach’s ‘Unhealthy’ Obsession Has Led to Success at Texas A&M.”

Whether or not it’s healthy, whether or not they succeed, Pete, EVERYONE who is, was or hopes to be associated with Texas A&M is obsessed!!!

imageLupinus texensis

daring to bloom maroon in Austin

Photo: Human Flower Project

Let a Human Flower Project prove it to you. About 25 years ago, horticulturists at College Station got a bead on developing new colors of the Texas bluebonnet. Is nothing sacred? Actually, at A&M everything is sacred, from the boots of the marching band members to the backflip kisses required after each touchdown. So yes, if undertaken with Aggie Spirit, the prospect of adulterating the state flower is not only proper, it’s potentially righteous.

Jerry Parsons recounts some of the tale:

“In 1982, a dying con artist and Texas naturalist named Carroll Abbott, Mr. Texas Bluebonnet, implanted in the mind of a naive horticulturist, me, a dream of planting the design of a state flag entirely composed of the state flower, bluebonnets, to celebrate the 1986 Texas’ Sesquicentennial.”

That charming idea came to involve thousands of researchers all focused on larger aims. “Financially stressed farmers needed another crop with which to diversify production,” Parsons explains. And the bluebonnet was a good choice since its input costs are low and the plants return nutrients to the soil. Also, a state flag made with bluebonnets would promote A&M’s whopper horticulture program with Texas flash.

The Lone Star flag is, of course, red, white and blue, so where was the team going to come up with white and red bluebonnets? White flowers didn’t take too long to develop, but the red bluebonnet was a real challenge. “Caroll Abbot himself had roamed the fields of Texas for years and had only seen three pink-blooming bluebonnet plants.”

Being “obsessed,” however, the A&M horticulturists eventually did find a patch of pink bluebonnets just outside San Antonio. By continuing to sow and select for the pink color, they figured a red bluebonnet was on the near horizon. But here’s where Aggie spirit overtook them.

Jeff Abt, telling all in his piece for The Daily Sentinel of Nacogdoches,  names names…

Horticulturist “Greg Grant, being an Aggie, thought to himself, ‘These pink bluebonnets with the blue tinge in them look a bit like the color maroon. Let’s select out, not for the color red, but for the color maroon. Who cares about the Texas flag. It’s Aggies that matter.’”

imageHorticulturist Greg Grant

one of the Aggies

behind the maroon bluebonnet

(pictured here at Mercer Arboretum)

Photo: Human Flower Project

We should have known. Greg is a dynamo, brilliant, funny, with a streak of mischief. For years he was the Bexar County Extension Agent, leading imaginative community projects like a citywide search for the true “San Antonio Rose.”  It would be just like him to divert this somewhat namby pamby research effort into a big horticultural bray for A&M.

By the mid-1990s, Grant and Parsons and other Aggie co-conspirators had succeeded.  In the fall of 1998 seed of the Texas Maroon Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) hit the market.  Jerry Parsons earlier that year had predicted that the new flower would be dubbed ‘Greg’s Maroon,’ for the impish revolutionary of Texas horticulture, but of course it didn’t happen that-a-way. Even though for some legal reasons we can’t understand, the flower can’t be officially named for the university, far and wide it’s known as “The Aggie Bluebonnet.”

Last fall our neighbor Katie tossed out some wildflower seed here in Austin; she was horrified when two weeks ago her bluebonnets bloomed maroon. “I may have to get out here with some orange spray paint!” she declared.

imageAggie (with telltale ring)

and maroon bluebonnets

Photo: Texas A&M University

Would Greg Grant consider developing an orange version of the state flower for UT fans? Uh, no. “Grant says years ago he noticed brownish flowers in a white bluebonnet field, but he promptly pulled them up, stomped on them and threw them away. He says University of Texas folks will just have to do without.”

UT has recently taken over the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and, it would seem, now has in harness the expertise to develop a burnt orange lupine. But do they have anything comparable to the crazed Aggie Spirit that such a task requires? We’ll see.

(Texas, by the way, lost in the second round to Southern Cal.)

Posted by Julie on 03/23 at 04:33 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink
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