Play the sustainability card on the global chessboard for cut roses

Updating standards, water saving, recycling, beneficial insects... Following the Dutch trend, Kenya, Ethiopia, Colombia and Ecuador are now relying on sustainability to maintain or increase their share of the world market for cut roses. 

A sustainable benchmark tool for rosiculture farm labels

On 27 February 2019, the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative IDH and its floral branch, the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative, jointly adopted the obligation for each of their member farms to keep a register of the standards put in place to make floriculture less harmful to the environment. The Floriculture Sustainable Initiative has been promoted since 2013 by the main players in Dutch floriculture (importers, floriculturists). What is its objective? Set up a tool for comparing the various existing labels in order to make the floral sector more transparent to wholesalers and producers, but especially to consumers. "The pressure is enormous for producers," explains Caroline Legrand, coordinator at FSI. "If they want to increase their market share in the main importing countries, they realize that they have no choice but to comply with European market standards. The application of the good practices imposed by the ISF increases expenses in the first instance because the investments are significant. But it's a positive pressure," she insists. So how can Southern producers adapt to these new requirements when many are struggling to make their investments profitable? Let us take the case of four countries that produce cut roses and the initiatives that have been developed there to “restore" the horticultural sector's image.

Ecuador combines quality with the sustainability of cut roses

roses rouges oranges jaunes coupees en bouquets

With a 9% market share in 2015 compared to 6% in 2005, Ecuadorian exports have increased dramatically in the space of a few years (World Floriculture Map data, 2016). The economic dominance of what is known as "The Land in the Clouds" is primarily due to its natural resources. "Rosiculture farms are located on the sides of volcanoes at an altitude of 300 metres. The flowers thus benefit from a fertile soil because it is very rich in elements," explains Lambert van Horen, Floriculture, Vegetables and Fruits analyst at Rabobank. In addition, there is the proximity of a powerful and lucrative market, the United States. "South America will always dominate the world flower market. The economic challenge lies in the profitability of a return flight. The planes carry the flowers on the way there. As for the return, there is no problem filling a Miami-Quito flight. But flights between Europe and Kenya (or Ethiopia) are far from full," adds the Dutch statistical expert. As proof: after a slight drop in 2014, the world value of Ecuadorian cut rose exports is consolidating at a very high level, reaching 635 million dollars in 2018, which represents 18% of the global value of exports, tied with Kenya. The other advantage of the Ecuadorian model is its "high-end" positioning based on variety, research and genetic adaptation. A national independent label, "Florecuador certified", was launched in 2005. It guarantees efficient resource and energy management, the rational use of pesticides and the protection of horticultural workers.


Kenya: a code of good practice on the cultivation of cut roses

Kenya has also shown impressive growth, increasing from 10% of market share in 2010 to nearly 15% in 2015. Europe accounts for more than 60% of exports, led by the Netherlands (285,444,000,000 roses), the United Kingdom (51,085,000) and Germany (29,911,000) (Eurostat 2017). 500,000 people currently work in floriculture. Aware of the importance of their brand image in relation to their competitors, 124 horticultural farms gathered within the Kenya Flower Council have adopted a code of good practice to ensure the export of responsibly grown flowers for both the environment and employees

Colombian certifications take over the BtoB market for sustainable roses

The preferential measures adopted over the past 30 years have greatly contributed to Colombia's growth in floral production. In 1991, the first Andean Trade Preference Act was passed, which increased import duties on goods from Colombia. Colombia, which for a long time was the second largest rosiculture producer, has recently been caught by the Ecuadorian ‘hare', which has forced it to diversify its production towards other types of flowers such as carnations and orchids (see attached diagram).

As a result, its rose exports fell by half between 2010 and 2015, from 12% in 2010 to around 5% in 2015. Colombia has also been one of the pioneering countries in terms of sustainable management of horticultural farms: a voluntary certification program - Florverde - was set up in 2003. "About 40% of the flowers exported by Colombian producers carry our certificate," Ximena Franco, the director of the eponymous association, recently told Vox magazine. "We measure the carbon footprint of farms and also manage issues such as contamination, recycling, water reuse, composting, etc.". However, FlorVerde certification is only intended to help distributors choose the products they consider to be the most environmentally friendly; under no circumstances can this label allow consumers to make the most ethical choices.

graph world exports cut roses 2010 2015

Ethiopian water reserves threatened by rose monoculture

With a 9% market share in 2015, while production was in its infancy in the early 2000s, Ethiopia is the second largest African rose exporting country after Kenya. The cultivation conditions in Ethiopia are ideal: the country's climate is temperate, with plateaus at various altitudes, and there are large reserves of fresh water (the country has twenty or so freshwater lakes). Another interest is that the floriculture sector is supported by the federal government and the no less powerful Ethiopian Horticulture Producers and Exporters Association. But the toll of intensive horticulture is heavy: drinking water sources such as Lake Abijata and Ziway have dried up considerably and some endemic animal species, such as Ethiopian wolves, have already disappeared. Wetland International is currently working on a study to determine the amount of water from the Bulbula River to be withdrawn without impacting the level of Lake Abijata. The idea would be to set up a paid water use system limited by a maximum threshold. Another innovative project was also jointly developed by Afriflora, the world's largest rosiculture farm and FSI. It consists in "using insects specially brought back from Europe and applied with a spatula on contaminated feet to devour the red spider mites that attack rose leaves," reports Christelle Gérand, a journalist with Le Monde diplomatique. And it has produced results: the FSI is already announcing on its website "a 20% reduction in toxic load and pesticide use" on this farm. 

 Overall, many countries have not fully recognized the harmful effects, both social and environmental, of rose monoculture. The Dutch initiative, even though it may, in the eyes of some, have a hint of neo-colonialism, could help to make progress on these issues. Feel free to contact our experts for more information on how to reduce the environmental impact of rosiculture!


Sources :

  • World Floriculture Map - Rabobank Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory :
  • The Floriculture Sustainability Initiative 2020 :
  • Christelle Guérand “La rose assèche les lacs d’Ethiopie” - Le Monde diplomatique, avril 2019 (
  • Daniel Workman, “Flower Bouquet Exports by Country”,, Juin, 2019 ( 
  • Gaby Del Valle, “The hidden environmental cost of Valentine’s Day roses”, Vox, Février 2019 (


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