Buy a Kenyan Rose for Valentines Day!
The Telegraph newspaper yesterday published that the British International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, made a statement appealing to romantics to buy Kenyan stems for Valentines Day. Excellent, I thought – until I read on to learn that he was immediately challenged by critics who said surely shoppers should be buying local or organic, or not buying roses at all as they are not in season in Britain. Grrr. I’m pretty sure I do understand the arguments about food miles and carbon footprints but I can’t help still feeling totally unconvinced about boycotting Kenyan produce.
‘Buying local’ is not necessarily an eco friendly approach because you are not always buying goods produced with low carbon emissions. My mum in law forwarded me an interesting article by Richard Woods published in The Sunday Times news review (February 3rd) entitled: ‘Get off your food miles guilt trip’. The article still left many questions unanswered and it was clear that the whole ‘food miles’ issue is still cloudy, but at least it seems to be being reassessed. He explains that while ‘food miles’ and the concept that: ‘local is good, long haul bad’ is an easy concept for shoppers to grasp, the arguments are not so straightforward. In fact researchers are using a new term; ‘LCA or ‘Life cycle assessment’, which quantifies the whole environmental impact of growing, transporting, selling and consuming a product. This re branding has thrown up some interesting results where it was discovered that it’s in fact significantly more eco friendly to buy New Zealand apples and lamb than British.
‘Various bodies, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Carbon Trust, are trying to formulate a method for calculating LCAs for consumer labelling. A pilot scheme involving Walkers Crsips, Boots and Innocent drinks started last year and has expanded to include food giants such as Tesco and Coca Cola.’
Tomatoes grown in Britain under heated greenhouses have far higher emissions than tomatoes from Spain grown in the open. Surely buying beans or flowers which are grown naturally under the African sun, where the average carbon footprint per person is absolutely miniscule compared to the West and where they have been economically packed and transported in bulk, often on planes that are ferrying tourists anyway, is preferable to choosing a ‘local or organic’ product:
‘Local production and a distribution system involving lots of vans and cars miss the environmental economies of scale.’
Besides all that – doesn’t England and the West have a responsibility to support produce from Africa? I’ve said this before, but why put aside so much money each year from the annual ‘Gross Domestic Product’ of a developed country to put toward overseas aid, if you are then denying the developing country the right to hold a place in world trade and become wealthy, all because of a dumb concept like ‘food miles’? Talk about giving with one hand and taking away with the other?!?
Sorry to rant. I know that there are further arguments about ‘fair trade’ in Africa but right now, especially after all that has taken place after the December election in Kenya, people need jobs and an income more than ever. Putting more people out of work really doesn’t help. I’m sure that there is pressure on large agricultural producers in Africa to adopt Fair trade practices eventually, but for now – please, please just buy Kenyan and therefore you are going some way to helping the people that need it most.