The Big Business of Flowers

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Where do your flowers come from? Liz Waid and Bruce Gulland tell about the business of growing and selling flowers.

Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2  

And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1  

All over the world people love fresh flowers. They smell good. And they look beautiful. In many countries people give flowers to each other as gifts. People may give flowers to say, ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Thank You’ or ‘I love you’.     

Voice 2  

Some people who give flowers get them from their own land or fields. Other people buy flowers from a market or store. Sometimes these flowers come from the local area. But often they have travelled thousands of kilometres. They have come from another country.

Voice 1  

One listener from Cayambe Ecuador told Spotlight that he works on a flower farm. The farm grows beautiful roses. Workers cut the roses and they are sent around the world. But Ecuador is only one place that sells cut flowers like this. Today’s Spotlight is on the global flower industry.

A flower market
A flower market; Image by Hands off my tags! Michael Gaida from Pixabay
Voice 2  

Flowers are a form of natural beauty. But they are also big business. The cut flower industry is extremely successful. Experts estimate that this global trade is worth more than 100 billion dollars every year.                                 

Voice 1  

For many years countries in Western Europe led the cut flower industry. The Netherlands was the centre of the industry. It was the major producer of cut flowers. It was the most important cut flower trading nation. Today the Netherlands is still the largest exporter of cut flowers in the world. But there have been changes in the last 20 years. Developing countries have successfully entered the flower industry. They have even reduced the Netherlands’ global share of exports. Countries such as Kenya, Colombia and Ecuador are new centres of production.

Voice 2  

So which countries buy all of these flowers? People in Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are the world’s biggest buyers of cut flowers. Many of the flowers they buy are imported. For example, 82% of cut flowers sold in the United States have been imported. The United States gets most its flowers from Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico. Europe imports many of its flowers from countries in Africa like Kenya.

Voice 1  

Developing countries like Ecuador, Colombia and Kenya are successful in the cut flower industry. These countries even have some advantages over countries in Western Europe. They have much better climates for producing flowers like roses. The temperature is warm all year. And labour costs less too. Flower farms use a lot of labour to grow flowers. So many people are able to work and earn money in the industry.

Voice 2  

Nathalie Cely was the Ambassador of Ecuador to the United States. In the Huffington Post she explained that the flower industry is very important.

Voice 3 

‘One out of every four roses bought in the United States comes from Ecuador. The rose industry in Ecuador provides good paying jobs for thousands of poor country women. Many of these women are heads of families.’

Rose in Ecuador
Rose in Ecuador; Image by David Espinoza from Pixabay
Voice 1  

But countries like Ecuador, Colombia and Kenya are thousands of kilometres away from their European and North American markets. And cut flowers have a limited life. Workers must treat them with great care. They control the temperature and air quality around the flowers. The flowers must reach their market quickly. If this does not happen they will be ruined or die. So flower farmers use airplanes to fly their flowers to market. Jane Ngige is the Chief Executive of the Kenyan Flower Council. She told CNN that being able to fly flowers to their market is very important.

Voice 4  

‘A direct flight to the market is key owing to the fact that this is fresh produce and it needs to get to the end user quickly in order to promise quality.’

Voice 2  

However, flying flowers around the world uses a lot of energy. This produces carbon. Some people may be concerned that this is not good for the environment and climate change. But others are not worried. Hilary Benn was the United Kingdom’s International Development Secretary. In 2013 he told a conference that flying flowers around the world used less energy than growing flowers in Europe.

Voice 5  

‘People often do not understand that they can support developing countries and reduce the release of carbon. Recent research shows that flowers flown from Africa can use less energy overall than those produced in Europe. This is because they are not grown in heated glass houses.’

Voice 1  

Some people raised another concern about flowers produced in developing countries. In some places there were problems for flower workers. They worked in poor conditions. Sometimes they worked long hours with no rest periods. They were paid low wages. Farmers did not protect workers from chemicals used. However in recent years working conditions have improved on flower farms in many countries. And hundreds of flower farms have become fair trade farms.

Voice 2  

Fair trade organisations decide if a farm meets the fair trade quality. On fair trade farms workers receive better wages. And they have safe working conditions. Fair trade flowers cost buyers about 10% more money. This extra money is called the ‘social premium’. It is controlled by groups of local workers.

Voice 1  

The workers use the social premium money to pay for community projects. Each local project is different. But all improve quality of life. Education projects provide equipment, classes and toilets for schools. Parents get help to pay the cost of sending their children to school and university. Carlota Garcia works on a flower farm in Ecuador. She told the organisation Fair Trade USA how she was helped,

Voice 6  

‘Thanks to this programme, I was able to keep my children in school and give them everything they need to study: clothes, joining costs, school supplies.’

A flower market
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay
Voice 2  

Other social premium projects help workers buy their homes. Health projects prevent diseases such as malaria and cholera. Environmental projects include green energy and tree planting. Samuel Atieno lives near the Athi River in Kenya. He led one social premium workers group. He told the organisation Fairtrade Foundation of his experience and big hopes for the future,

Voice 7 

‘Fair trade is a life changer. If this premium money can change the life of a worker in such a short time; if it can turn around the life of a family, of a community; then can’t this premium also change the structure of the country? In the long run we will affect Kenya and then even Africa.’

Voice 1  

Do you buy flowers? Would you buy fair trade flowers? What do you think about flying flowers around the world? Tell us what you think on our website.

Voice 2  

The writer of this programme was Katy Blake. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this programme and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this programme again, and read it, on the internet at This programme is called, ‘The Big Business of Flowers.’

Voice 1  

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight programme. Goodbye.


Do you buy cut flowers? Why do you buy them? Do you know where these flowers come from?



Join the discussion

  • The flowers are beautiful. There are many kinds of flowers, each kind has a different beauty. The flowers have diversity colorful. Depending on the land, the flowers can grow. I love the flowers and I wish I will have a garden flower in the future. I will plant sunflowers, roses. My favorite is sunflowers. This is a flower has a highlight color. The sunflower has a lot of meanings. My house is near the street so it does not have lots of vacant land to plant trees or flowers. But I used to cut the flowers when I live in my grandmother’s house. I cut the rose to decorate my house. As far as I know, the rose derived from the Northern Hemisphere stretches from Alaska to Mexico. The roses have many colors like red, yellow, blue, pink… I like all but I like most the yellow of rose. Maybe I like things that have a yellow color so I like the yellow rose. Unfortunately, the land of my hometown is not suitable to plant the yellow rose. It’s only planted the red roses and pink roses. These flowers which my grandfather plant has thin wings and the flowers are quite small.

    • I have always seen flowers as a pleasent expression method, for me because the variety of colours, shapes and properties of each flowers always fascinated me on a personal level. It felt like me it can express the abstract complicated nature of human feelings, like it would be our depths in such a beautiful manner, To show that the human nature is bautiful. And the more I think Abt it I seriously wonder Abt this kind of nature and each flower has it own nature. And I think this programme felt like and inspired me, to get a slower store in the future as a side job of my main dream

  • Yes l buy the flowers because l like small and form flowers and it is very beautiful. In fact, I don’t know from where come these flowers.
    Thank you.

    • I like flower very much and when i see flower its atract me
      Flowers explain many things and can be gift in diffrent events
      And the diffrent colours explain many things and feelingz however i prefer red colour

  • Flowers are always the symbol of the beauty. There are thousands kinds of flowers living every where in the Earth and every one has the different beauty. Most women love flowers and don’t except me. Roses are my favorite flowers. They smell good and they are one of the symbol of love. If a boy give you roses as a gift, may be he is looking at his eyes on you. In my country, people also grow flowers for business. I often buy cut flowers on celebrations or long holidays to decorate the house. I have a dream of traveling to Poland one day to take pictures in the tulip flower fields, but this will cost me very much, so I have to save money for a long time.

  • I don’t buy cut flowers because almost all of those jobs are done by my mother, but every now and then I see how to make cut flowers and learn about little types of flowers such as roses and sunflowers that everyone is familiar with. I believe those types of flowers come from the local area, and I hope to learn more about them someday.

  • Not only are flowers beautiful additions to our homes, weddings and special events, they also have different meanings attached to them. There’s nothing quite like a beautiful bouquet of fresh-cut flowers to brighten your space, celebrate a happy occasion, or make someone you love feel special. Beautiful bouquets of cut flowers can turn any room into a garden. But many types of flowers tend to wilt and fade quickly when cut and placed in vases. there are plenty of simple tips you can use to keep that bunch of blossoms looking bright and florist-fresh for longer. Choose flowers with buds that are just starting to open rather than ones that have already opened at the flower shop. Avoid stems with brown spots where leaves may already have fallen off, and choose specimens with fresh, green, firm leaves.

  • Sometimes I buy cut flowers , I buy them just when I have an occasion and honestly I don’t know where they come from. in my house I have artificial flowers, they are beautiful and have a similar shape of the normal flowers , I think it‘s sad to know what the labour are exposed to .

  • Looking at flowers is one of life’s greatest pleasures. When I see cut flowers in a familiar flower shop, I oftenly buy them. For no apparent reason, the only thing I notice about them is that they’re beautiful, and I want to bring them home. A vase of flowers is always present on my desk. They serve a dual purpose for me in that they are both decorative and comfortable. There are many people in the world who adore flowers and are uncanny in their feelings for them, including myself. As someone who always treats flowers with affection, I despise those who abuse them in any way, such as stomping on them or hitting them. The flower shop that I frequent has a large variety of flower types, all of which are stunning, and the store owner is someone who shares my passion for flowers. The flowers in her shop, according to what I was told, were imported from Da Lat, which is known throughout Vietnam as “the city with thousands of flowers.” This is fantastic

  • Yah I once bought a flower & give it to my husband for no specific occesion but about another question just now i know from where we get to the rosesI think it is a perfect way to receive the product and also use the plane to fly the roses around the world and make the product come to us in good condition

  • I’m sure people buy flowers, but they don’t know where they come from or care about them. I gained an understanding of the process by which beautiful flowers reach the hands of customers as a result of the speech. Despite the fact that artificial flowers are increasingly being used to decorate because they last longer than fresh flowers, my mother still prefers to use fresh flowers for decoration because they have a unique scent and significance.

  • Yes Sometimes I buy flowers. I like the smell of flowers and their different colors and the beautiful feeling they give to the place and I was happy to know where the flowers come from.

  • Well, the flowers are beautiful. On special occasions such as valentine’s day, women’s day,… there are many kinds of flowers are purchased. In Viet Nam, Da Lat is very famous because in there have many flowers with diversity colorful. I wish I can go to Da Lat city to travel and see this kinds of flowers.

  • This episode includes some wonderful information about flower industry. I enjoyed it and I love improve my knowledge in addition to learning english.
    Thank you 🙂

  • Of course i have bought flowers for my lover also i have planted it in my garden its look so good. I think that flying flowers is important to improve the countries that plant it

  • Yes l buy flowers..l love flowers very much…lbuy them as gifts..or for my self…l’m pleasnt when l look to them …l use cut flowers to decorate my home…although lhave a small garden with some kinds of flowers…l know many cut flowers buy from Europe countries specialy Holland…l love Holland too much….l visited it in 1999 lstayed 5 months….during this period l visit kuekenhof….it extremly beautiful….very colourful gardens…the flowers need very intensive care…irrigation…sutiable climate…protect them against diseases…overall the year…the local flowers less expensive from export flowers….lthink it is good business…for earn money.

  • I. Like this text because very interesting l become know from found a flowers l i like buy flowers when l have celebrity l buy flower and party the flowers it considered good a gift we can buy to the frinds and perants thank you baunch spotlight keep going

  • I like beautiful flowers. I often buy cutting flowers and put into vase decor my living room. Sometimes I give flowers to my friends as a birthday’s gift or special cases as women’s day. In my country, people always buy many flowers on the Lunar New Year.

  • yes, I really like flowers but if they are in the ground or buck , because that will be keep them long time for fresh. thank you Spotlight program very much !

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