Valentine's Day always causes a surge in the sale of roses. But while many may swoon at the sight of this classic offering of love and devotion, for scientists like ecology and conservation biologist Dr. David Harper of the University of Leicester, it is cause for great concern.
For over three decades, Harper has studied wetland conservation at Kenya's Lake Naivasha, a freshwater lake northwest of Nairobi that is part of the Great Rift Valley. Its name comes from the local Maasai word Nai'posha , which means "rough water," referring to the sudden storms that crop up across its 53-square-mile (139-square-kilometer) expanse.
But rough or not, there may not be much water left if the international flower industry continues along its path of unsustainability -- and consumers continue to make unethical purchases. Harper said that floriculture, the main industry around Naivasha, is putting Kenya's ecology in danger by draining the lake's critical water supply through unregulated irrigation. Water is Kenya's scarcest natural resource. And it's not just humans who need a healthy Naivasha -- a wide variety of wildlife, including hippos and over 400 species of birds, call it home.
"A notable few of the farmers sending roses to Europe are showing concern and an eagerness to pioneer a sustainable way forward: The best flower farms have achieved Fair Trade status, which brings money back into the workforce for social welfare improvements. Two farms have even seconded senior managers to help Kenya's water management agency at Naivasha," said Harper, according to Climate Action, a non-profit partner of the United Nations Environment Programme.
And some retailers are also changing their ways for the better, thanks to public action in the form of petitions. According to statement released last week by Change.org: "Within 72 hours of Change.org's promotion of a campaign asking 1-800-Flowers to offer Fair Trade certified arrangements, the company agreed to offer a Fair Trade collection by Mother's Day, publish information on flower sourcing, and create a code of conduct for suppliers that prohibits forced and child labor. These steps make the world's largest florist also one of the most proactive and responsive companies in the industry -- a major victory for advocates and workers."