Valentine’s Day 2014: The Real Story Behind the Rose Bouquet – Kenyan Worker Snips 8,000 Roses an Hour for £1 Daily Wage

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By Vittorio Hernandez | February 14, 2014 9:45 AM EST

On any given Valentine's Day, the red rose is probably the most common flower given to wives, girlfriends and female friends. Each year, thousands of roses and other flowers are shipped, arranged, sold and delivered for Feb 14 and other special holidays as an expression of love or friendship, or sometime to ask forgiveness.

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A survey of roses has discovered that the cheapest bunches can sometimes be the best.

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The British daily, Mirror, decided to track the path of roses sold by one of the biggest flower wholesaler in the country, Finlays, and the journey brought the writer to Naivasha, Kenya, where Finlay owns flower farms.

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About 25 per cent of cut flowers in Europe are shipped from Kenya, which started the industry in the 1980s and is the African nation's third-largest source of foreign currency at $120 million a year.

There, the writer found a woman, who, during the peak of preparation for the day of hearts, must cut 8,000 roses every 60 minutes or more than two stems per second.

The work is done in a hot polythene tunnel, and for her efforts, the harried employee is paid only about £1 a day.

If she were to buy in Britain's high street a bouquet of a dozen roses, the woman would have to work over two weeks to afford the flowers they handle daily since the price tag is £20 on V-Day.

During February, she harvests roses four times a day, beginning from 7 am to 5 pm, six days a week with just one-hour lunch break. Her quota is to fill 40 buckets with 200 roses each every hour.

Finlays, which owns the Flamingo and Kingfisher flower farms along the banks of Lake Naivasha, sell the blooms to Fairtrade-certified buyers which assume workers from where the flowers came receive a better deal.

Brenda Achieng, legal and human resources director of Finlays Horticulture Kenya, belied the claim of workers that they receive low wages. She said Finlays pays one of the highest rates in the flower industry and all employees get above the minimum wage, with the lowest-paid receiving 2,000 Kenya shillings more a month compared to the wages other farms pay.

Achieng added that workers also get housing allowance, medical care, transport and subsidised meals that are nutritious.

Some relief, however, appears to be on the way for Kenya's flower farm workers with the approval by the Kenyan parliament of a law that would almost double the salaries of flower farm employees.

Rose faming is a labour-intensive endeavour since before the blooms are cut, it needs to be watered, pruned and treated. The best roses are sold through Dutch auctions and the lesser ones in European grocery stores.

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(Photo: reuters / )
A survey of roses has discovered that the cheapest bunches can sometimes be the best.
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