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Lara Smallman
Campaigner, film-maker, blogger (London, United Kingdom)

Self-taught film-maker interested in exploring human rights issues. See more on larasmallman.com.

Post

Is Kenya’s green dollar as good as it seems?

Published 16th September 2010 - 6 comments - 4921 views -

Tourism takes a back seat

Believe it or not, the humble green bean is big business in Kenya, even bigger than tourism. So strong is the bean market that growing them has become the vocation of choice. The warm climate makes it a very easy grow, and with crops taking just a few months to yield, beans top the export list and make them highly profitable. 

The Brits love a good bean

Apparently us Brits love a good old green bean or two, so much so that we consume an incredible 36million kgs every year. With our climate failing (surprise, surprise) to meet the grade, we turn to Kenya for 60% of our bean fill. That's 21.6million kgs flying a whopping 4000 miles to our supermarkets. Air freight pushes the price up, but nothing is going to put us off.

And why should it? After all, it's providing valuable jobs, and there's enough money in it to  pay workers up to double the national minimum agricultural wage, which equates to £1.90 a day. Moreover, we are going some way in supporting the small-scale farmers that account for 70% of Kenyan agriculture, and contributing a large chunk towards the £70million pounds that the bean crop is worth, so why not lap up the green goodness?


[Image courtesy of the Independent]

 

To buy or not to buy?

Well, what would you say if I told you it took up to 4 litres to grow just one bean stem? It might not bother you, but in a country facing water scarcity, it should at least be something we give a little consideration to. Then there's the fact they are flown thousands of miles, not exactly good for the environment. With just 72 hours to get from field to plate, it's a race against the clock to get the freshest of beans onto supermarket shelve, ruling out shipping, the far more eco-friendly option.

 

It's a tough choice indeed, help the economy or the environment? Is Kenya's green dollar coming at too high a price?

 


Category: Agriculture | Tags:


Comments

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 16th September 2010:

    there is an ugly pr video about it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHVWNlZWj0E


  • Lara Smallman on 16th September 2010:

    Thanks Iwona, I have embedded it in the post.


  • Jodi Bush on 16th September 2010:

    It’s never black and white is it… job creation vs environmental damage. Short term vs long term. The answer is never going to be straight forward, and it’s going to differ depending on priorities. Nice article!


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 16th September 2010:

    Good one, Lara! smile Indeed, it’s never just black and white. I guess ours is always the story of the oppressors and the oppressed, of the abusers and the abused.

    I’d say - don’t buy. Eat potatoes and carrots which manage to grow in the British climate. But then Kenyan bean growers need a serious alternative… Until there is one, the Kenyan green dollar will not be as green as it seems.


  • Hanna Clarys on 16th September 2010:

    When I’m buying Fair Trade the same question comes to my mind. Many ingredients of fair trade products come from Ghana, Chile, Bolivia, etc… I might be helping the farmers there to get a fair wage, but at the same time I’m messing up the environment. Which one is more important?


  • Bart Knols on 18th September 2010:

    And that’s just the story with respect to the UK. There is also a Jumbo 747 cargo plane stuffed with beans, destined for the Dutch market, leaving Nairobi airport for Amsterdam, every single day…


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