Whilst the headlines are about the huge carbon footprint of red roses imported from Kenya when economists examined the costs more closely it was clear that once heating costs etc. were taken into account it was better for the environment to buy them from Africa than next door in the Netherlands.
Lovers left to count the cost of Valentine's Day bouquet
UNDER the bright African sun, the cut comes before the rose blooms. On the banks of Lake Naivasha, Craig Oulton, manager of the Flamingo Homegrown farm is preparing to light up a Scottish lover's heart.
The stems cut today by Craig and his staff, across the Kenyan farm's vast acreage, are whisked to the pack house, graded for size and quality, packed in a cold store then rolled out on to lorries for the one-hour drive to Nairobi airport. They are then flown 4,333 miles to Heathrow, where they are collected by companies such as Flower Plus or Zwetsloots for delivery to a supermarket or florist near you.
According to Michael Buick of Climate Concern on the difference between flowers from Holland and flowers from Africa:
"You have to keep in mind that these figures do not represent life cycles of the flowers, so you cannot make assumptions about their comparative carbon footprints. Studies have compared producers from Holland and Africa. One of the points that came out was that while the flowers may travel further, those produced in Holland were grown in greenhouses that had to be heated using gas burners, so in reality they had a far larger footprint."
Mr Buick added that the carbon footprint of a bunch of flowers would be so small as to represent just a few pennies. Yet the pennies mount up. The British flower market is worth £2.2 billion each year, the equivalent of £36 per person, of which £28 is spent on flowers and £8 on plants. This is a rise of £28 per person since 1984, however we still lag behind Europe whose average spend is between £60 and £100 per person. Scots, however, are particularly passionate about their blooms, while only 8.7 per cent of the population, we account for 12 per cent of flower sales.
Each year Britain imports £315 million worth of flowers, while exporting just £16 million. The government's latest Official Trade Statistics show that in the past three years the quantity of flowers from the Netherlands has fallen 47 per cent from 177,000 to 94,000 tonnes a year. Imports from Africa have risen 39 per cent to 17,600 tonnes. They have gone up 200 per cent since 1998. Kenya's flower exports to Britain are followed by those of Colombia and Spain.
Yet consumers are on the horns, or should that be thorns, of a dilemma. The air may be polluted with more plane fumes, but African nations are benefiting from each bouquet. In Kenya, the nation's profits from flowers are the fourth-largest generator of foreign exchange after tea, coffee and tourism. Ethiopia has seen its business begin to blossom with exports to the UK rising from just one ton in 2003 to 130 tonnes last year.
"Research proves that growing flowers overseas, where the light is brighter and the air is warmer, uses less fuel - including the air freight - than growing them in Europe," said Andrea Caldecourt of the Flowers and Plants Association. "It gives employment, plus education and medical services, to often impoverished rural regions which would otherwise rely on charity handouts to survive."
Yet the environmental lobby is concerned about the cost of "flower miles". Friends of the Earth points out the rise in greenhouse gases produced by air freighting bouquets of flowers thousands of miles, as well as the use of chemicals and water in cultivation. A spokesman for the FoE said that the flowers were dead and suggested instead that the public grow their own gift.
Yesterday, as Valentine's Day approached, an orange glow shone through the mass of white plastic greenhouses which stretch for miles along the shores of Lake Naivasha - the lights shining as the farm workers pick the roses 24 hours a day to feed the European market.