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The human impacts of flower farm development in the Ethiopian Rift Valley region

The human impacts of flower farm development in the Ethiopian Rift Valley region
Anteneh Belachew Gezmu


Department of Food Business and Development, University College Cork, National University of Ireland, Dublin 2, IRELAND.


The flower industry has a reputation for heavy usage of toxic chemicals and polluting the environment, enormous consumption of water, and poor working condition and low wage level in various parts of the world. It is unfortunate that this industry is adamant to change and repeating the same mistakes in Ethiopia. Because of this, - there is a growing concern among the general public and the international community about sustainability of the Ethiopian flower industry. Such concerns and controversies over the Ethiopia flower industry has initiated this research to properly address the social, economic, and environmental impacts of flower farm development in the Rift Valley regions of Ethiopia. Consequently, working conditions in the flower industry, impacts of wage income on the livelihoods of employees, coping strategies of low wage flower farm workers, impacts of flower farms on the livelihoods of local people and environmental pollution and conflict, were analysed. Both qualitative and quantitative research methods were employed. Four quantitative data sets were collected between 2010 and 2012. A labour practice, and employees’ income and expenditure survey was conducted on 195 and 139 randomly selected farm workers, respectively. About 168 households were involved in the displaced household survey, and farm officials from 30 flower farms participated in the flower grower views’ survey. Qualitative data ranges from observations to in-depth focus group discussions. Robust regression to identify the determinants of wage levels, and Multinomial logit to identify the determinants of coping strategies of flower farm workers and displaced households were employed. The findings show the working conditions in flower farms are characterized by low wages, job insecurity and frequent violation of employees’ rights, and an absence of social dialogue and poor safety measures. Most flower industry employees are living below the poverty line, and to cope with low wages they adopt detrimental strategies. To ensure survival of their family, displaced households adopt a wide range of strategies including reduction in food consumption, sharing oxen, renting land, share cropping, and shifting staple food crops. Most experienced scarcity of water resources, lack of grazing areas, death of herds and reduced numbers of livestock due to water source pollution. Despite the Ethiopian government investment in attracting and creating a conducive environment for investors, not much was accomplished when it comes to enforcing labour laws. The foregone benefit from loss of farm land for the displaced households was not compensated by income earned from the flower industry. Flower growers also face a number of institutional obstacles. Flower farm expansion in Ethiopia, as it is now, can be viewed as part of the global land and water grab and is not all inclusive and sustainable. There is an urgent need to establish a federal and state minimum wage and to enforce labour laws. Several recommendations are made to improve working conditions, maximize the benefits of flower industry to the society, and to minimize pollution of the environment, to resolve the ailing relations between the flower growers and local community, and institutional obstacles faced by flower growers in Ethiopia.