Finlay Flowers, Oserian and Ravine Roses


Conrad James
Fairtrade Flowers ©Transfair Germany

Flower farms have long been a key employer in Kenya, providing jobs in areas where there are few other alternatives and ensuring a valuable source of export revenue for the country.

The Kenyan cut flower industry dates from the late 1960s but it wasn’t until the 1990s that investment transformed it into a major player in the international market. With an annual growth rate of 20%, the cut flower industry is among the fastest growing sectors of the Kenyan economy and, with revenues of more than $250m a year, it is Kenya’s second largest agricultural foreign exchange earner after tea.

Kenya is now the fifth largest flower exporter in the world. Thirty per cent of all Kenyan flowers are exported to the UK and Kenya also supplies 25% of cut flowers sold in the EU. While it is estimated that there are 5,000 flower farms in Kenya, 75% of exports are supplied by 25 large- and medium-scale companies.

With more than half of Kenya’s population of 37 million living in poverty, the cut flower industry plays an important role in providing employment and alleviating poverty. Around 55,000 people, mainly young women, are directly employed in the industry, while 2 million people indirectly depend on the flower industry for their livelihoods.


Fairtrade and the Kenyan Flower Industry

Fairtrade certification provides an independent verification that the workers on these large-scale flower farms have decent wages and working conditions in line with the core International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions. This includes the right to join a trade union, the right to negotiate collectively with the employer on terms and conditions of employment, freedom from discrimination, no child labour, and a safe and healthy working environment.

As with conventional sales, the farms negotiate a price with the exporters who buy their flowers for the Fairtrade market. This price includes an additional payment called the Fairtrade premium, set at 10% of the negotiated price. This premium money is reserved specifically for investment in projects which benefit the workers and their wider communities. Decisions about how the premium is used are made by a Joint Body of elected workers and management representatives, in consultation with the workforce.

Charges of vote rigging following December elections led to rioting and protests in January and February 2008, badly affecting Kenya’s three major foreign currency earners - tea, flowers, and tourism. Ethnic cleansing forced many people to leave their homes, including tea and flower workers. On some Fairtrade certified farms premium money was used to assist them. The workers and management who were able to continue working put huge efforts into ensuring supplies could still reach the UK and other markets, despite fuel and fertiliser shortages and the need for military escort for all transportation. February is a crucial time for flower farms, with Valentines Day and Mothers Day orders coming in, and it was essential to maintain continuity so that after the violence had passed, the business on which so many people rely could return to normal.

Fairtrade flowers were first sold in the UK in March 2004. The range of flower types available has expanded from roses to include alstroemeria, gypsophillia, lisianthus, ruscus, and sunflowers, as well as the recent additions of carnations and lilies.

The Fairtrade flower category now comprises 75 licensed products, a 71% increase since 2006. Over 83 million stems were sold in 2007, bringing enormous benefits to the farms they are sourced from. Cut flowers sold via the grocery multiples accounted for 65% of sales in 2006 and continue to be the focus for growth in the Fairtrade flower market. In addition there has been a considerable rise in internet distribution, an ideal vehicle for the flower delivery networks.

Fairtrade certification has meant that workers are empowered and have gained new skills. Through managing the Fairtrade premium and resulting projects, workers have gained the confidence to address wider issues with management while relations with the local community have improved as a result of community-based projects. However, Fairtrade certified farms currently sell a maximum of 20% of their production to Fairtrade buyers so there is still huge potential to expand the Fairtrade market and provide substantial benefits to flower farm workers and their communities.


Finlay Flowers - Profile

Finlay Flowers is a subsidiary of Finlays, a global tea and flower company that operates a number of tea estates in Kericho, the main tea growing area in Kenya’s Western Highlands. The four flower farms are located around Kericho at around 2,000 metres above sea level, where the temperate climate, fertile soil, and even distribution of rainfall provide excellent conditions for horticulture.


Finlay Flowers - Use of the the Fairtrade Premium

Over the years, the Joint Body at Finlay Flowers has used the Fairtrade Premium to provide learning materials and teacher training to 30 nursery schools in the area. Local schools have been provided with computers and printers, tables and chairs, lockers and sports equipment, and one of the playgrounds was upgraded with swings, slides and see-saws. In 2007, premium money was spent on further equipping the primary schools and buying books for the library at Marinyn Secondary School. It also provides bursaries for secondary school pupils (19 girls and 20 boys) and three university scholarships.

Similarly, Fairtrade Premiums have in the past been used to support the Kaboloin Home for local people with disabilities, funding medical assessments and providing wheel chairs and crutches. During 2007, premium funds were used to extend the facilities by constructing a bathroom and kitchen.

As well as making some investment in capacity building, and meeting the running costs of the crèche it set up in 2005, the Joint Body was able in 2007 to equip the maternity ward it funded at Chepchabas Dispensary, and donate a laundry unit to the local hospital, along with an oxygen concentrator for use in oxygen therapy.


Oserian Flower Farm - Profile 

Oserian Development Company is located on the shores of Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley. Its name comes from a Maasai word meaning ‘place of peace'. Of the 6,000 workers employed at Oserian, 90% are permanent and around one third are female. The farm produces and exports just under 400 million stems a year, mainly roses and carnations, on a production area of 245 hectares. The company provides either free housing or a housing allowance for its workers, as well as healthcare facilities, primary schools and crèches, social and sporting activities. 

Oserian Flower Farm - Use of the Fairtrade Premium

During 2007, spending of the Fairtrade Premium was focused on education and training. One project was to expand and equip a training centre where skills such as tailoring, knitting and computing can be learnt, and included the purchase of computers. Another funded a science laboratory and admin office block for Oserian high school. Some 451 employees have benefited from bursaries enabling them to pursue higher education, and 189 children of employees have received funding towards their secondary schooling. 

The Joint Body has been strengthening its own skills through training on Financial Management, Leadership Skills and Project Management. In October 2007 the members undertook an exchange with the Joint Body of Finlay Flower, designed to enable the two to share ideas and learn from one another. The Gender Committee and Education Committee have also benefited from capacity building in their specific fields.

Premium funds were used to put on a seminar for employees on ‘Family Life’ about domestic violence and family break up, and  Ksh1 million (£7,000) was put into the campaign against the spread of HIV/AIDS at the time of World Aids Day.

Other premium spending has included the purchase of a bus for workers to travel to weddings, funerals and social and sporting events; gas cookers for some individual workers; and three televisions for the social centres.

Premium money has also been dedicated to projects which benefit the wider community, including part-funding the Rubiri water project which will supply water to over 200 families. Achieving this involves sinking a borehole, constructing a water storage tank, installing a pump and connecting an electricity supply. As community member Samuel Muchina put it: “The Joint Body has added value to this area by seventy-five per cent”.


Ravine Roses - Profile

Ravine Roses is a comparatively small farm with a permanent workforce of 900, producing around 66 million rose stems a year. Nonetheless it is the only major employer near the small town of Eldama Ravine and, as such, has a big impact on an area with high youth unemployment and where the local population are mostly subsistence farmers, growing maize and rearing cattle and goats.

The company provides free healthcare to permanent workers, a small dispensary, and a canteen with lockers. Unusually for a Kenyan flower farm, the company does not provide housing, but it does provide a housing allowance. Around 50% of employees are migrant workers who boost the local economy by renting accommodation in the town. Local workers live in nearby villages. 


Ravine Roses - Use of the Fairtrade Premium

Before beginning to plan the spending of the first Fairtrade Premium, the Joint Body at Ravine Roses undertook a needs-assessment survey and held training to raise awareness about Fairtrade among the workforce. Since then they have contributed premium funds to local medical projects, undertaken training on project management and worked to ensure they properly represent the workers.

During 2007, the largest investment of premium was almost Ksh 4 million (just under £30,000) which was put into a Community Shop, a fund which buys items in bulk and makes them available to workers on hire purchase; solar panels, iron sheets for roofing, bicycles, televisions, gas cookers and sewing machines amongst others.

Substantial funding from the premium went into education. Two new classrooms and a playground were built at Simotwet ECD (Early Childhood Development) school, the laboratory at Kamelilo Secondary School was renovated and equipped, and a water tank was provided for Kamelilo Primary. An education credit scheme has been set up, granting interest free loans for secondary school fees for 60 children, as well as for workers to access further education and attend computer training and driving courses.

Premium money also supplied equipment and uniforms to the men’s and women’s volleyball teams, and work has begun on the construction of a new crèche for workers’ children. 


Environmental Context

Growing flowers requires a lot of water, a precious resource in Kenya where distribution is uneven. The Fairtrade minimum standards require certified farms to protect the nearby water supply, and many certified farms go beyond this minimum requirement. Several farms harvest rainwater or drill boreholes to give local communities access to water. All are committed to reducing pesticide and insecticide use in order to reduce pollution.

Longonot farm is located near Lake Naivasha where there are serious concerns about overuse of water and environmental destruction. The farm employs hydroponic techniques, dramatically reducing water use, and then recycles water for use on other crops, conserving even more.

At Finlay Flowers too, hydroponics and water recycling are employed. The company has also constructed a wetland area which purifies water from the pack house and from cleaning chemical containers so that it can feed safely back into the water table.

The workers at Finlay donated Fairtrade premium money to the Friends of Mau Water Catchment (FOMAWA), a local NGO working to conserve and reforest the major water catchment area for the region, the greater Mau Forest. The Joint Body also set up a tree nursery which employees requested that they run themselves, thereby gaining new skills. The project enables local farmers to buy tree saplings at a subsidised rate so that, as well as producing fruit to be sold at local markets, the trees are contributing to reforestation in the area.

Approximately 90% of power used at Finlay is hydroelectric. A trial biological pest management project is being conducted in which insect predators are bred to control spider mites and other pests, reducing insecticide use.

At Oserian Flowers, geothermal energy is used to heat some of the greenhouses. The vast majority of the land at Oserian is uncultivated or given over to forestry, and the company has established three wildlife corridors through which animals from Hells Gate National Park have access to Lake Naivasha. 


Buy Fairtrade Flowers

You can buy flowers from Kenya carrying the FAIRTRADE Mark from:

Asda, Interflora, John Lewis,  ocado, Sainsbury's, and Tesco

Fairtrade Foundation November 2008


Look for the FAIRTRADE Mark on products. It’s your guarantee that disavantaged farmers and workers in the developing world are getting a better deal.