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article imageAfrican fair-trade farmers relieved as Europe opens air space Special

By Miriam Mannak     Apr 23, 2010 in Business
Twenty million. That is the number of fair trade roses African farmers were forced to dump as a result of the Icelandic ash clouds. A disaster was in the pipeline with many small farms heading for bankruptcy if Europe would not have opened its airspace.
The gradually opening up of Europe's airspace came just in time.
"In Kenya fair trade flowers growers have lost entire harvests,” said Benjamin Gatland, regional coordinator at the Southern African Fairtrade Network (SAFN).
In Ethiopia a similar scenario was applicable, he said. Being an important exporter of fair trade roses, many farms had to destroy tons of roses and other flowers.
In Africa, 80 percent of the flower production is meant for export to Europe.
Fruit and vegetable farmers in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa were hit too. One of the advantages they had was that they could sell their produce on the local market, Gatland said. "Flowers have to be transported as soon as they bloom, otherwise they are worthless to buyers. Despite this fair trade farmers lost a lot of money, as selling fruit and veggies at local prices instead of export prices makes a big difference."
Despite the pressure, no fair trade certified farm has reported layoffs of workers. "The farm management managed the situation by encouraging workers to take up early paid leave, clearing any pending off days and redeploying workers to other sections/departments," the International Fairtrade Organisation said in a statement.
A few days prior the opening up of Europe's airspace Erling Ølstad, the director of Norway’s largest retail chain of Fair trade flowers, said that he was shocked by the impact of the Icelandic volcano crisis. “We have visited many small and large flower farms in Ethiopia the last couple of days, and this is a serious crisis to them. If trade does not start again within few days, many of the small farms will go bankruptcy. This will affect thousands of workers in a way I think we cannot imagine the consequences of. It will especially affect the women, who make out 80 percent of the work force in the flower industry, and also the children. The farms have already started throwing away huge volumes of flowers.”
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