VIDEO: Ethiopia rose farms in export overdrive for Valentine’s Day
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It is seven in the morning and 300 workers are arriving at the Gallica rose farm, a vast complex on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Each year, the farm’s eight hectares of greenhouses produce around five million roses to be exported around the world.
But the run up to St Valentine’s Day is a particularly busy time of the year. Today alone, more than 20,000 flowers will be harvested.
"Here the cycle is about 80 days,” explains farm manager Gizachew Wondemu. “If you plant the roses 80 days ago, you get them now. So we try to prepare some of the varieties to come, mainly the red ones. We're always producing less than the demand."
Ethiopia is mainly known for its coffee. But the country’s agricultural sector is growing and, over the last 12 years and boosted by investment from the Ethiopian government, the niche market of flower production has boomed in particular.
Having started from scratch, Ethiopia exported two billion tons of flowers in 2013, with a value of 212 million US dollars.
That figure makes it the world’s fourth largest flower producer and second in Africa behind Kenya.
Although most flower companies are foreign-owned, Ethiopia's flower sector has created over 50,000 jobs and over 70 per cent of the workforce are women.
For rural communities it is a great opportunity to find a job without having to travel to the city.
“I live next door but I don't have my own land. I plan to work here, and then start my own business with my savings,” says Birtukan Milkesa, one of the workers at the Gallica farm.
“We have great advantages working here. For example, our lunch is provided every day."
Ethiopian flower farmers follow a strict code of conduct and understand they work in a very competitive market.
At Gallica, each rose is carefully selected, sorted and packaged.
"Before shipping, the roses are packed, hydrated and stored in a cold chamber over night,” explains Stephane Mottier, Gallica’s owner.
The farm produces over 60 varieties of roses. When new hybrid colours form, they are given unique names.
“Different countries demand different varieties. This one will probably be shipped to Japan or South Africa,” says Stephane, pointing to a white rose. “The rest, essentially red roses, are shipped to France."
At the end of the day a truck comes to collect the flowers. They will then be taken by plane and delivered straight to flower shops around the world in time for Valentine's Day.