30 Nov 2020

Valentine Growers: The future looks rosy for Fairtrade flower growers in Kenya

Pauline Wambui, a worker at the Fairtrade certified Valentine Growers in Kiambu, Kenya. Valentine Growers are winners in the Hired Labour Organisation of the Year category of the 2020 International Fairtrade Awards.
Funnelweb Media

Dennis Gakuru is a busy man. As well as working as Human Resources Assistant at Valentine Growers, a large flower farm just north of Nairobi, Kenya, Dennis is also the company’s Fairtrade Officer.

“It’s my job to make sure everything is done according to the Fairtrade Standards, everything complies with the rules and regulations. I make sure that the premium is put to good use and there is no misuse of the funds,” he says. “When you are leading a team of Fairtrade workers, and you hear them talking about the impact Fairtrade has had on their lives, you feel proud of yourself and you feel proud of Fairtrade.”

Being a Fairtrade Officer has also given Dennis the chance to expand his horizons. “I get to travel a lot and learn a lot,” he says. “Before, I didn’t understand much about what Fairtrade entails. Now, I’ve been able to capture its goals, its dreams, its aims and vision.”

Valentine Growers describes itself as “not your typical rose farm.” Covering more than 500 hectares - 18 of them under greenhouses - and producing an astonishing 27 million roses every year, more than 95 percent of the workforce is employed on permanent contracts, giving them job security in a notoriously challenging industry. “We have union representatives, a union committee and a gender committee,” explains Dennis. “We make sure there is no discrimination and everyone is represented.”

That Fairtrade Premium money which Dennis ensures is spent wisely has benefitted workers at Valentine Growers through a number of projects including clean water supplies, free or subsidised medical care, schooling for their children and a humanitarian fund in case of emergencies. “For example, we had one employee whose house was burnt down and everything was reduced to ashes. We were able to buy her all the things she needed and now her life is back to normal.”

Valentine Growers is one of the winners for Hired Labour Organization of the Year at the 2020 International Fairtrade Awards - an opportunity, says Dennis, for other businesses to up their game. “What we’re doing can be an inspiration to other companies who can learn from us. Maybe we’re doing things here that they could replicate on their farm.”

In one of the vast greenhouses where roses of all colours are grown, picked and sorted for export, flower grader Jacinta Wanjira Muiga is in no doubt of the benefits Fairtrade has brought her. “I have worked here for 14 years,” she says. “Valentine Growers has helped me educate my children as they were sponsored from high school to university. I was also able to go to college and now I’ve got a catering certificate which means I can earn extra money. I got access to a loan facility which I used to buy a water tank and gas cylinder. As a result, my life is much better, and I have plans to buy land for my family in the future.”

Many workers agree that being able to afford a good education for their children is one of the biggest benefits. “Fairtrade will enable me to educate my kids till they complete their studies as money will not be a problem,” says Pump Operator Henry Ndichu. “I can access loans and bursaries which mean they can complete their schooling. As they say, the sky’s the limit when it comes to educational development.”

Younger children are not forgotten either. “We’ve got a nursery for the workers’ children,” says Dennis. “They only pay ten percent of the fees - the company picks up the rest. We’re building a creche nearby so young mothers can go at any time to breastfeed their babies. And we hope to allocate some premium funds for a maternity hospital - at the moment, women have to walk a long way to deliver their babies.”

As Dennis says, Fairtrade is a win-win for both the workers and the company. In the highly competitive cut flower trade, Fairtrade is important for business development, says Marketing Manager Jorum Kanyua. “From the marketing perspective, Fairtrade opens opportunities which we would otherwise not be able to access,” he says. “It helps us promote our products better, because the market is already there.”