ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — Ethiopia’s flower exporters are cashing in on Valentine’s Day, as the industry blooms.
Many of the roses that lovers give each other on Valentine’s Day happen to be grown in Ethiopia. In the last decade, the industry has grown from nothing to one of the dominant players on the international market.
Zelalem Messele, an Ethiopian flower grower and chairman of EHPEA, the Ethiopian Horticulture Producer Exporters Association, said Valentine's Day is very important for the country's flower sector.
“It’s one of the holidays the flower industry flourishes. And the production goes up by 30 to 40 percent and so the demand,” said Messele.
About 85 percent of Ethiopia’s flowers are exported to Europe. Flower exports in 2012 were valued at more than $210 million. This year, the amount is expected to be more than double, at $525 million.
Industry growth and government-provided tax breaks and loans have attracted many foreigners here to set up flower farms in Ethiopia. Of the 90 flower producers in the country, more than half are non-Ethiopians - many of them Dutch.
AQ Roses, a 40-hectare flower farm, 180 kilometers southeast of Addis Ababa, employs 1,250 people. It is run by a Dutch family who came to Ethiopia in 2005. General Manager Frank Ammerlaan said there were multiple reasons for coming to Ethiopia.
“We were much more attracted by the whole atmosphere in Ethiopia. There’s a lot of sunshine. The temperatures are moderate. It’s not too hot, not too cold. That’s why we are able to produce good flowers,” said Ammerlaan.
About 1,500 hectares in Ethiopia are used to produce flowers. The fast-growing industry has directly created about 85,000 jobs and roughly 110,000 jobs indirectly. Women take up 80 percent of these jobs.
ZK Flowers is a flower farm 50 kilometers south of Addis Ababa. There are only a few men to be spotted on the eight-hectare flower fields, as women occupy all jobs from cleaning to production management.
Birke Gormis works six days per week in the fields of ZK Flowers. She said the industry has improved her life and that of her family. She said that since she is employed, she is not dependent on her husband when she wants to buy items at the market.
Kenya is currently Africa’s biggest flower exporter and Ethiopia is second. As Ethiopia aims to surpass Kenya in the coming years, it is focusing on penetrating the North American market.