Oserian: Here are the facts on the situation in our flower farms

A worker at Naivasha based Oserian flower farm. [File, Standard]

We were in shock and dismayed by a story published in the Saturday Standard of September 22, titled ‘Blooms of Death; Flowers rake billions at the cost of poor workers’ lives’ with a sidebar titled ‘Doctors warned me against going back to the flower farm.’

Our key concern is portraying us as an irresponsible company and being used to validate the report used as source of the information. The damage that can arise from such gross misrepresentation of our business is unimaginable. Your reporters should have exhausted all possible avenues to seek clarification on the falsehoods reported, with full knowledge of the consequences to both the Standard Group and Oserian Development Company.

Consequently, we wish to put the record straight regarding the inaccuracy of the information as presented and the cost such reports visit on a company built on ethos for nearly 50 years. We have documentary and physical proof that your article is a gross misrepresentation of Oserian Development Company, and especially the medical history of our employee Janeclare Oloo whose illness has absolutely nothing to do with agrochemicals or working in a flower farm.

Secondly, our spray regime and safe use policy is an open book. Not only have we drastically reduced usage of chemicals under our sustainable practices, we use biological pesticides, geothermal and domestic animals and other green methods in our farm to control pests and diseases as well as create a safe environment for people and planet. Kenya does not allow importation of harsh chemicals classified as Category Red or BASIS that are banned by WHO, despite their being used in Europe. This can be verified with the Pest Control Products Board, the institution that approves and registers all pesticides used in the country.

Routinely checked

Besides, the Kenya Flower Council has a prohibitive chemicals list as is Fairtrade Certification, which has the hazardous materials list of chemicals PROHIBITED FOR USE in the flower industry, and our stores are open for your checking. In addition, we have no known records of chemical poisoning at the farm. Our spray department workers are routinely checked for chemical enzymes every three months. Any cases of low levels in chemical spray staff lead to transfer to another department. Sprayers are rotated every month after spraying once. Before any staff is assigned to the spray section, they must undergo tests, training on safe use and sign documents to the effect they are safe to handle chemicals. Staff transfer when there are complaints about working environment are routine for all departments.

Of utmost importance, women are not allowed to handle chemicals and we spray after workers have left for the day after 3pm. Spraying ends at 6.30am and the farm opens at 7am. Re-entry into greenhouses after spraying doesn’t happen until more than 12 hours later. No chemical has such a long re-entry level!

Our chemical store is always under lock and key and when transporting products to the mixing room, security escorts the process to avoid diversion to prevent any unintended use of the chemicals. These accounts should tell you that our employee Janeclaire Oloo has no contact whatsoever with chemicals. The team of doctors attending to her, none has linked her medical case to chemicals or workplace hazard.

Oserian, having founded the Kenya flower industry, has positioned itself as a role model of the most responsible and regulated sectors, is proud to be associated with a business that is a is a global benchmark therefore being labeled as the epitome to justify the headlines ‘Blooms of Death’ is highly regrettable. Such sensational reporting that lumps together farms that have heavily invested in responsible growing practices against which they are audited can easily backpedal gains made over 50 years to develop a world class industry. Our markets are highly sensitive to these kinds of media stories and the damage your article is likely to cause our very responsible business, could have far-reaching implications. As a farm, we wish to present facts.  

- The writer is Director, Human Resources and Administration at Oserian Development Company