Environmental piety is misguided when flying flowers in from Africa has such benefits for Kenyans, says David Bosomworth

Concerns about flying in goods from Africa have led some retailers to place aircraft stickers on airfreighted goods to inform consumers of the environmental impact of their buying.

These eco-labels only tell half the story. They say nothing about the positive social benefits of providing a livelihood to African farmers. Importing flowers from Kenya gives a £52m boost to the economy of a country where 40% of the population live on less than $2 per day.

Using UN data showing the link between living standards and economic wealth, not-for-profit think tank OnBalance has shown that injecting £52m into Kenya’s economy is equivalent to lifting 18,000 Kenyans out of poverty.

Other social benefits include improved nutrition, sanitation, health and education, with the Kenyan flower trade with the UK equivalent to providing 57,000 Kenyans with enough to eat; giving 125,000 people access to a proper water supply; putting an extra 2,600 children in secondary school; improving the sanitation of 39,000 people; extending the life expectancy of 91,000 people past the age of 40; and lifting 18,000 people above the $2 income threshold.

If that weren’t enough, there’s also the fact that flying in flowers from Kenya saves CO2 compared with importing flowers from alternative sources. Growing flowers in The Netherlands requires heating vast greenhouses and consumes more energy than airfreight from Kenya.

A 2007 study by Cranfield University concluded that the carbon footprint of flowers flown in from Kenya was six times smaller than flowers grown in The Netherlands.

This may not be true for all goods airfreighted from Africa. But over the past century Kenyans have emitted a tiny fraction (0.7%) of the CO2 of their UK counterparts – and airfreighted goods from Africa travel in the hold of the same planes that bring returning holidaymakers back to the UK.

How can we argue that Africans shouldn’t be allowed to work their way out of desperate poverty because transporting their goods emits too much CO2 – when the same plane is bringing rich Europeans back from safari holidays?

David Bosomworth is chairman of OnBalance.uk.com.