Many rose-lovers no longer going Dutch on Valentine's Day
Blooms from Kenya and Ethiopia put the Dutch rose trade in the shade, write Senay Boztas and Patrick Sawer
Published 14/02/2016 | 02:30
The traditional offer of a red rose - or even a dozen - on Valentine's Day may be a fittingly romantic gesture, but the reality of the blooms' origins is rather more prosaic.
The flowers bought here and in Britain are now increasingly cultivated thousands of miles away -under acres of glasshouses in Kenya, then refrigerated for shipping to Europe in huge containers.
Where once most cut flowers, including red roses, came from Holland - which has traditionally dominated the flower market - today they are more likely to come from Africa. New figures reveal a huge drop in Dutch rose production, in favour of imports from Kenya - where roses are called "waridi" in Swahili - and Ethiopia.
Half a million people depend on the floriculture industry in Kenya alone.
Questions have been raised about poor working conditions and exploitation, but this hasn't helped the fortunes of growers in Holland.
Figures from Dutch statistics office the CBS show that in 2000 there were 765 Dutch companies growing roses.
By last year that had fallen to just 120. Just 283 hectares is now dedicated to rose cultivation, less than a third of the amount once given over to the flower.The Netherlands is still the world's largest producer of plants and flowers, but only just. The Rabobank World Floriculture map 2015 shows flower exporters in Kenya and Ethiopia have increased their global market share.
The Dutch market share fell from 58pc in 2003 to 52pc in 2013.
Key to this are modern techniques which allow transportation of flowers across longer distances, using sea containers. Shipping was once only suitable for products with a long shelf life, such as flower bulbs and young plants.
Indeed, these days the Dutch are themselves more likely to buy roses from Africa, importing €575m of roses last year, with 70pc of sales from Africa. The main countries of origin were Kenya (€227m) and Ethiopia (€138m). Some Dutch rose growers even now have operations in Africa.
Chanel de Kock, UK marketing manager for the Flower Council of Holland, said: "Africa certainly offers great growing conditions for roses, so is a popular choice for rose growers."
Surprisingly, the Dutch flower markets today trade more in roses than tulips - even though these are the unofficial symbol of the Netherlands.
The Dutch tulip became notorious in the 17th century "tulipomania" when speculators made a fortune on bulbs until the market crashed. A forthcoming film with model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne, Tulip Fever, is a love story against this ruinous backdrop.
In Ireland, the rose is the traditional Valentine's flower of choice.
Across the water, lovers have even greater reason to embrace the flower. "The national flower of England is the rose," said Ivo van Orden of the Flower Council of Holland. "The flower has been adopted as England's emblem since the time of the Wars of the Roses." The wars between 1455 and 1485 pitted the royal house of Lancaster, whose emblem was a red rose, against that of York, whose emblem was a white rose.
© Sunday Telegraph