Contamination blurs the rosy side of flower farms
The flower industry in Kenya, a multi-billion shilling industry is in a mess and things may not be as rosy.
A tour of the farms within the neighbourhood of Njoro Sub-county in Nakuru County revealed a side that is never in the public glare of the environmental degradation affecting neighbours.
Many frustrated neighbours do not bother to look for accommodation near the flower farms because of the inhuman working conditions and exposure to toxic chemicals. To address this gap, management of flower farms in the area ferry casual workers from Njoro town, some 20 kilometres away.
However, some of those living next to the farms have been left with no option but to sue the flower firms over environmental degradation.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, some farm workers said they are exposed to toxic chemicals as well as being underpaid and overworked in addition to working long hours without overtime compensation.
The other major grievance is that the over 50 mega size greenhouses covering acres of land upstream are giving them nightmares.
When it rains, water from the greenhouses flows to the dams that have been dug to retain the precious liquid to water their flowers.
However, this is a two-fold problem. The water mixed with chemicals overflows and ends up in the farms down-hill owned mostly by peasant farmers.
One of the victims, who requested anonymity, said her farm has been affected by contaminated water from the greenhouses. Despite protesting and showing them the adverse effects it has on her land, grass, plants and cattle, the farm managers and owners have turned a deaf ear.
Another neighbour said his complaints to the local chief have been brushed aside severally with questions such as: “Why don’t you sell your land to them and move out to solve your problem?”
The irate neighbours said their houses had also been affected during the floods forcing them to be marooned for hours on end. They have held several demonstrations against the flower farms and invited the media, local chiefs, Member of the County Assembly and Member of Parliament but the authorities have not taken any action.
A visit to the area proved that mature acacia trees, shrubs plus grass were wilting. The trees had their bucks peeling off due to the presence of chemicals in the air and on land.
Another neighbour blamed the contaminated water for poor harvest of nduma (arrow roots) and sukuma-wiki (kales). For dairy and livestock farmers, it was worse because the water had caused sickness and death.
In addition to the environmental degradation, the greenhouses have also caused havoc during the rains when the overflow forms galleys as it flows downhill and even blocks the only road that pupils use to Tengecha Primary School.
Says a frustrated neighbour: “Whenever it rains in this area, our children’s safety and lives are endangered by the run off because it comes in a big way and forms a river that blocks the only road they use to go to school for hours forcing us to keep vigil until it subsides.”
According to the residents, who say the flower farms are owned by prominent businessmen, chief executives and prominent religious leaders their complaints have fallen on deaf ears and they have filed several cases with the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and at the Nakuru High Court.
This is totally the opposite of the market destinations demands that those who work on the flower value chain put human rights at the top of their agenda.
The Women at Work Campaign started in The Netherlands which plays an important role in horticulture. The Women@Work Campaign offers a unique opportunity to engage and influence governments, businesses and certification bodies to ensure better working conditions for women.
An environment contaminated with toxic chemicals is not only unhealthy for women and other inhabitants in Njoro but also totally dangerous.