There are few things on which the UK's green lobby and Saudi Arabia's vice squad would probably agree. But here's one: Valentines Day flowers are a bad thing.
The Saudi religious police hate bouquets and red roses in particular because they think they encourage people to have sex when they shouldn't so they've banned them. Our eco warriors hate them just as much for rather different reasons: they disapprove of the chemicals used to grow commercial flowers and of the fact that most of the ones we pass around on February 14th are flown in from countries such as Kenya and are therefore thought be to particularly environmentally unfriendly.
The Saudis are wrong on so many levels I can't even begin to comment on them but the greens are wrong in a very simple way. You see Kenyan flowers aren't particularly environmentally unfriendly. Despite flying over 4,000 miles to reach us, the total carbon emissions from them, including air freight, are almost 6 times lower than for Dutch flowers, according to a study from Cranfield University in 2006.
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Why? Because the growing conditions around the Rift Valley, are perfect for flowers so producing them requires very little in the way of electricity heavy irrigation heating.
More importantly, however, the flower industry was Kenya's third largest foreign exchange earner, after tourism and agriculture, last year. This year it's probably going to be its second largest earner and not for good reasons (all the tourists have been scared away), making it all the more important that we support it.
So if you want to help the world and in particular the Kenyans, who could really do with it right now, you should buy as many red roses as you can possibly afford from them.
First published in The Evening Standard 12/2/08
Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).
After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times
Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast - but still writes for Moneyweek monthly.
Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.
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