Water for Flowers

Its waters covering about 50 square miles5 of Kenya‚ Great Rift Valley, Lake Naivasha (elevation 6,200 feet) sits 62 miles north of Nairobi. Communities thrived along its shores 4,000 years ago. The Maasai people long grazed their cattle along the lake‚ banks.6

Stories abound of flower farm workers suffering from chemical exposure and enduring long hours at low wages in the farm fields and processing facilities.

A 26-year-old woman, one of the 50,000 people working on the farms, told the Reuters news service that the pesticides and fertilizers used on the farm give her rashes two to three times a month. Unfortunately, the doctors employed by the companies are reluctant to discuss any connections between illness and the use of pesticides and fertilizers.19

Secret filming inside one of the large farm greenhouses showed workers in protective gear spraying flowers, while other workers nearby wore no protective clothing, says Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.20 The pesticides applied on the farms and in the greenhouses eventually end up in Lake Naivasha and in the groundwater, endangering the area‚ people and wildlife, including hippos, fish, and birds.21

During a trip to Lake Naivasha in the summer of 2007, Food & Water Watch staff saw photographs of cattle who died after drinking pesticide laden water flowing from one of the flower farms.22

But chemical exposure is not the only problem workers face. There is the matter of their treatment, as well. Ouma Oloo‚ mother worked for the Oserian flower company after the Naivasha fishing downturn. He is glad that she has long since retired: “This industry chews up and spits out people.” 23

Indeed, in 2006, workers at Oserian rioted over low wages, poor working conditions, and mass firings.24

Although some of the farms have received some credit for trying to improve labor conditions, critics point out how much remains to be done. Edward Indimuli of Workers Rights Watch pointed out that, ‚people here are suffering. The conditions are terrible.” 25

According to Reuters: ‚Sher worker Daniel Sagwe, who earns 4,700 Kenyan shillings ($65) a month plus a 1,000 shilling housing allowance, said he could barely afford to buy water for his three children and wife.” 26