Valentine's day is not widely celebrated in Africa, except by the more affluent urban folks. But Africa is very much involved in our Valentine's day celebrations. More than 70% of all cocoa beans are grown on African soil, so your Valentine chocolates are likely to have originated in Africa. And around 800 million flowers will be making their way from Kenya's Lake Naivasha region to markets throughout Europe for the Valentine's day rush.
Flowers are Kenya's biggest export earner, and growers employ more than 70,000 people. (In the US, the 200 million roses shipped for February 14th, come primarily from Columbia and Ecuador). In the past decade Ethiopia has gone from earning less than a million US Dollars from flower exports, to $190 million by 2012 and is expected to rise to $550 million by 2016. Flowers may even beat out Ethiopia's other big "green" export moneymaker - Qat. Further south, South Africa has also become a major player in the flower industry.
Unfortunately the sheer amount of pesticides, water, fuel, packaging, and chemical preservatives used to keep the flowers in a perfect state on their long journey, means the carbon footprint of this industry is not exactly fragrant. Quite frankly it stinks. The flower business is also notorious for the mistreatment of its workers. Kenya's flower industry is dominated by multinationals who own vast flower farms. They employ thousands of people as temporary workers, housed in very shabby conditions and earning the bare minimum. As a consumer this Valentine's Day, you can help by buying flowers that have been sustainably grown (and preferably still from Africa!)
Image © Getty Images/Christopher Furlong