The Big Business of Flowers

Tet flower market in Vietnam
Photo by Nguyen Dung Tien via Flickr

Where do your flowers come from? Liz Waid and Bruce Gulland tell about the business of growing and selling flowers.

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Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2  

And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

All over the world people love fresh flowers. They smell good. And they look beautiful. In many countries people give flowers to each other as gifts. People may give flowers to say, ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Thank You’ or ‘I love you’.     

Voice 2  

Some people who give flowers get them from their own land or fields. Other people buy flowers from a market or store. Sometimes these flowers come from the local area. But often they have travelled thousands of kilometres. They have come from another country.

Voice 1  

One listener from Cayambe Ecuador told Spotlight that he works on a flower farm. The farm grows beautiful roses. Workers cut the roses and they are sent around the world. But Ecuador is only one place that sells cut flowers like this. Today’s Spotlight is on the global flower industry.

Voice 2  

Flowers are a form of natural beauty. But they are also big business. The cut flower industry is extremely successful. Experts estimate that this global trade is worth more than 100 billion dollars every year.                                 

Voice 1  

For many years countries in Western Europe led the cut flower industry. The Netherlands was the centre of the industry. It was the major producer of cut flowers. It was the most important cut flower trading nation. Today the Netherlands is still the largest exporter of cut flowers in the world. But there have been changes in the last 20 years. Developing countries have successfully entered the flower industry. They have even reduced the Netherlands’ global share of exports. Countries such as Kenya, Colombia and Ecuador are new centres of production.

Voice 2  

So which countries buy all of these flowers? People in Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are the world’s biggest buyers of cut flowers. Many of the flowers they buy are imported. For example, 82% of cut flowers sold in the United States have been imported. The United States gets most its flowers from Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico. Europe imports many of its flowers from countries in Africa like Kenya.

Voice 1  

Developing countries like Ecuador, Colombia and Kenya are successful in the cut flower industry. These countries even have some advantages over countries in Western Europe. They have much better climates for producing flowers like roses. The temperature is warm all year. And labour costs less too. Flower farms use a lot of labour to grow flowers. So many people are able to work and earn money in the industry.

Voice 2  

Nathalie Cely was the Ambassador of Ecuador to the United States. In the Huffington Post she explained that the flower industry is very important.

Voice 3 

‘One out of every four roses bought in the United States comes from Ecuador. The rose industry in Ecuador provides good paying jobs for thousands of poor country women. Many of these women are heads of families.’

Voice 1  

But countries like Ecuador, Colombia and Kenya are thousands of kilometres away from their European and North American markets. And cut flowers have a limited life. Workers must treat them with great care. They control the temperature and air quality around the flowers. The flowers must reach their market quickly. If this does not happen they will be ruined or die. So flower farmers use airplanes to fly their flowers to market. Jane Ngige is the Chief Executive of the Kenyan Flower Council. She told CNN that being able to fly flowers to their market is very important.

Voice 4  

‘A direct flight to the market is key owing to the fact that this is fresh produce and it needs to get to the end user quickly in order to promise quality.’

Voice 2  

However, flying flowers around the world uses a lot of energy. This produces carbon. Some people may be concerned that this is not good for the environment and climate change. But others are not worried. Hilary Benn was the United Kingdom’s International Development Secretary. In 2013 he told a conference that flying flowers around the world used less energy than growing flowers in Europe.

Voice 5  

‘People often do not understand that they can support developing countries and reduce the release of carbon. Recent research shows that flowers flown from Africa can use less energy overall than those produced in Europe. This is because they are not grown in heated glass houses.’

Voice 1  

Some people raised another concern about flowers produced in developing countries. In some places there were problems for flower workers. They worked in poor conditions. Sometimes they worked long hours with no rest periods. They were paid low wages. Farmers did not protect workers from chemicals used. However in recent years working conditions have improved on flower farms in many countries. And hundreds of flower farms have become fair trade farms.

Voice 2  

Fair trade organisations decide if a farm meets the fair trade quality. On fair trade farms workers receive better wages. And they have safe working conditions. Fair trade flowers cost buyers about 10% more money. This extra money is called the ‘social premium’. It is controlled by groups of local workers.

Voice 1  

The workers use the social premium money to pay for community projects. Each local project is different. But all improve quality of life. Education projects provide equipment, classes and toilets for schools. Parents get help to pay the cost of sending their children to school and university. Carlota Garcia works on a flower farm in Ecuador. She told the organisation Fair Trade USA how she was helped,

Voice 6  

‘Thanks to this programme, I was able to keep my children in school and give them everything they need to study: clothes, joining costs, school supplies.’

Voice 2  

Other social premium projects help workers buy their homes. Health projects prevent diseases such as malaria and cholera. Environmental projects include green energy and tree planting. Samuel Atieno lives near the Athi River in Kenya. He led one social premium workers group. He told the organisation Fairtrade Foundation of his experience and big hopes for the future,

Voice 7 

‘Fair trade is a life changer. If this premium money can change the life of a worker in such a short time; if it can turn around the life of a family, of a community; then can’t this premium can also change the structure of the country? In the long run we will affect Kenya and then even Africa.’

Voice 1  

Do you buy flowers? Would you buy fair trade flowers? What do you think about flying flowers around the world? Tell us what you think on our website.

Voice 2  

The writer of this programme was Katy Blake. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this programme and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this programme again, and read it, on the internet at This programme is called, ‘The Big Business of Flowers.’

Voice 1  

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight programme. Goodbye.


Do you buy cut flowers? Why do you buy them? Do you know where these flowers come from?


Avatar Spotlight
said on March 28, 2016

This is picture about flowers industry in Viet Nam. In my country there is good place to grows many kind of flowers especial roses. This is Da Lat City. In there, the temperature is always from 18 to 22 degree.
Why sportligh does not talk about Da Lat and uses picture about Viet Nam.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on April 03, 2016

Dear Liz waid, Katy Blake, Bruce Gulland, and Michio Ozaki:

Once more, I want to thank you to produce more one important issue for us. Yes, I buy cut flowers. Because in my country Brazil It is very important to buy cut flowers to give onother person as a gift. Also, It is very polite to give a cut flowers to say: Happy Birthday, Thanks, or I love you . Yes, I know. In my country Brazil there is a place called ATIBAIA in which produces many cut flowres to sell. This place is responsible by 25% of the production of flowers so many supermakerts, stores, and fair buy flowers from it. Finally, cut flowers in my country Brazil is very expensive. If the cut flowers are roses, they will be more expensive because roses are very beautiful and they have a good smell.

All the best,
Severino Ramos
São Paulo SP Brazil

Liz Waid's avatar
Liz Waid
said on April 11, 2016

Hi huyquoc,

We use all kinds of different pictures to illustrate our programs. In this case, this picture showed a flower market like the kind we talked about in the program, even if we did not specifically talk about Vietnam. We hope it can be a useful clue to our listeners.

I hope that helps!

uksha's avatar
said on January 31, 2017

Hi, My name is Juan Chucuri,  This flowers industry is in my Country Ecuador.

Avatar Spotlight
My English Class
said on February 01, 2017

I have just discovered your gently-paced podcasts and will be recommending the site (and smartphone app) for my students. Easy comprehension, good diction, excellent language source for deep language learning. 

Now a few comments about flowers. I was aware of the carbon footprint issue associated with the practice of flying flowers to their consuming markets, but I did not realize that growing flowers in greenhouses would use up even more energy. Living and learning!

Keep up the good work!

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 02, 2017

Thank you Spitlight.
Fresh flowers always picture the beauty of life. I love flowers. My country does grow and sell different kinds of flowers. I wish I have a chance to visit Da Lat -Vietnam, the place is called ‘The City of Flowers’. ❤

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 05, 2017

From my viewpoint, we usually buy cut flowers when we want to delight other person with this natural colour beauty or we are going to decorate our flat, house. We mostly don’t think overly of an original area flowers come from just as the workers who have grown, treated them in order to keep flowers fresh, beautiful for a long time.
The cut flower industry is profitable highly and at the same time it helps many people in developing nations get a good job that will enable them to take the sufficient care of their families.
At all events, the amazing local or exotic flowers are worth buying because it brings beauty, pleasure to our life and that is why the global flower industry will probably be expanding more and more in near future.
Thanks Spotlight team for another great topic!

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 10, 2017

Dear Liz Waid :
Accept my best regards for your wonderful efforts , to produce these very nice and important subjects.
Flowers are wonderful presents in many different occasions . I can’t imagine trading flowers between our continents , and spending a lot of money , since we know how many people are starving and dying of hunger . If we spend em on humanterian aid so the flowers themselves will be thankful . In Syria , churches used to use an artificial flowers for the most occasions as people donate money to some Hyman’s charities instead of buying cut flowers .
Thanks again and sorry.

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 27, 2018

I didn’t found Spotlight english app on iOS that you introduced in the link . Please tell me how to download and install this app on my iphone.