We announced recently that we’re the only retailer to make all our African roses Fairtrade. It doesn’t stop there though – we’re also giving an extra £30,000 from sales of African roses bought in Feb and March to help fund a graduate nursing programme in a community hospital in Kenya, where our roses are grown.

The hospital in Naivasha is a much needed resource for the whole community, including the farmers that grow our roses, but it’s badly in need of funding, with a nurse to patient ratio of 60:1. This money will make a huge difference to the number of nurses and the care that patients will get.

Fairtrade’s already changing lives in Naivasha

I visited Naivasha about a year ago, on a buying visit looking at African flowers, mangetout and baby sweetcorn. It was one of my first visits overseas with the team, and it was really intense. On the journey you got to see the reality of what it’s like to live in a rural community in Kenya.

One thing that struck me though as the difference Fairtrade had already made. The farms were clean, with bright and comfortable accommodation, and the farmers got meals and medical care provided. There was a real community vibe and the farmers socialised together in the evenings. It’s not what you might imagine when you think of a rural production facility in Kenya.

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I also visited the community hospital, and it was quite upsetting. The hospital didn’t have enough nurses and it was full of mosquitoes. There were tiny babies there and the children’s ward had some very ill children on it. While they had some modern kit they’d been gifted, they couldn’t afford replacement parts when things broke.

Finding a way to help

We were always planning to source a Mother’s Day range of flowers from Naivasha, but seeing the maternity unit in such a state got us thinking of ways we could help – how we could support mums and babies in the hospital through sales of flowers bought in our stores.

When we got back home there was a lot of work to do. We had to create a product range, price it, get it into stores, market it – and work with the hospital in Naivasha to make sure that the money would get to the right place. It took almost a year, and it was a whole team effort. I’m so proud of the team that worked on this – it makes you realise what amazing things can be achieved when everyone cares about a cause.

It’s International Women’s Day today, and Mother’s Day this Sunday. So whether you’re buying flowers as a treat for someone else or yourself, why not take a look at the Kenyan roses, as your gift will help women in one of the poorest communities in the world.

Adele Balmforth
Head of Category – Fresh

Join the conversation! 16 Comments

  1. Just coming back on the questions around environmental impact, unfortunately, roses don’t bloom naturally all year round in the UK, yet consumer demand for them is often highest during the colder months, for example on Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. Although it is possible to hothouse flowers in Europe, this is extremely energy intensive. There is a natural local environment advantage to growing flowers in African countries including high altitude and longer hours of sunlight which allows for less artificial interventions than would have to be used in the UK or Holland, where many of the cut flowers sold in the UK are grown. This leads to Kenyan roses having significantly better carbon footprint than roses grown in the Netherlands. In fact, in terms of carbon, they are even better than locally grown roses throughout the year in the Winter, according to research produced by consultancy firm Quantis. For shoppers wanting to buy roses, the FAIRTRADE Mark offers a simple way to do so which guarantees a better deal for the workers. The flowers are sourced from farms that are also committed to meeting environmental standards at the local level.

    Ref the point that the money should be spent here where ‘core customers’ are, this is about supporting some of the poorest people in the world whose products we readily purchase, consume and rarely give a thought to. In simple terms they deserve a better deal and if Co-op customers are buying their flowers then a bit of added support to communities where they have 60 patients to each nurse and babies die as a result, seems fair enough to me. But I would say that, I am Fairtrade strategy Manager. We are all entitled to our opinion and the great thing about being members is that we can shape our business. So Mr X, get to the AGM and make your voice heard!

    With regards the £30K being ‘a drop in the ocean’, its all these drops over 20 years that have helped Co-op support hundreds of thousands of people beyond the work of Fairtrade alone. It’s the Co-op Way and we should stand proud as a result . I know I do.

  2. It makes me proud to work at the Co-op when I read stories like this.

  3. Nice on the Fairtrade side, but why do we need to ship flowers from Africa? Carbon impact anyone? Surely they grow roses closer to home?

    • I too would like to know why?

    • Hi BGN, it’s a good question and I’ve asked our buyers. We do sell British roses too, and they’re very popular, but we can’t get them all year round in the numbers we need, so as well as supporting British growers we need to look further afield.
      ^Lara

      • Yep, I understand the need to provide a product year-round when there is continuous consumer demand. But in terms of limiting carbon emissions when transporting the goods we sell, what about considering roses from Europe (I believe lots are grown in the Netherlands).

    • Hi BGN

      There have been quite a few studies on the carbon footprint ramifications of flowers grown in Kenya and consumed in Europe. Most agree that even taking the air freight into account, there is a lower footprint for roses grown in Kenya than in either the Netherlands or the UK.

      For me discourse should be around the sale and consumption of non-seasonal flowers in the UK irrespective of where they are grown.

      • Hello Paul,

        I note that the overall environmental impact in Kenya can be very high and when one considers the reduced emissions vs. the environmental impact then it far from clear if it offsets the reduced carbon emissions during the growing phase. However, the overall environmental impact is somewhat difficult to measure and I guess there really is no correct answer here… beyond of course your salient point around the sale and consumption of non-seasonal flowers.

  4. Still think that money would be better spent in the UK. Where our core customer base is and where 1.2 million people used food banks in 2016-17.

    • Hi Mr X. At our AGM last year, members voted to extend our Fairtrade commitment. If you don’t agree, then the best way to have your say is to vote at our AGM this year – eligible members will get their voting packs mid April.
      ^Lara

  5. All good stuff, but I can’t help but think £30k is like a drop in the ocean. That’d pay for an NHS nurse for a year in the UK (I’m guessing, including employers pension and NI etc).

    I know you get a lot more for your money in Kenya and the pay rate is obviously much lower, but it still doesn’t feel like much. What exactly is the hospital going to be able to buy with this money?

    • Hi Steve, it’s going toward training more nurses, so for a rural hospital in Kenya it will make a massive difference, and really improve the current ratio of 1:60 nurses to patients.
      ^Lara

    • Coming from the other side of the pond, I can say that this will go significantly further than you’d think. In many parts of Africa the daily salary is less than £10 if not closer to £5. Not taking into account the person would travel to and from work often spending 3-4 hours travelling a day to get there…

      Only factoring the daily salary of one person that would be 3000 days (or 6000 at £5 if you were getting apprentices being trained by others.) Hopefully up-skilling and creating a future for them and their families. Never mind all the other great things Co-op does on other projects which we also fund!

      It’s truly great to have a Co-op which is continually trying to improve lives and communities across the globe.

  6. This is lovely

  7. Hi. Do you know of any opportunities for people wanting to get some experience in working in fair trade sections of the Co-op. I did a development MA in Sheffield and I know plenty of students myself included who have an interest in opportunities and possible placements.

  8. This is what I love about working for Coop, our Fairtrade ethics.

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Fairtrade, The Co-op Way