• Rose packer at Afriflora in Ziway

A visit to Africa's King of Roses

In Ethiopia much is allowed for economic growth -including very low wages. Dutch rose producer Afriflora in Ziway profits from it -is this what an African success story looks like?

When dawn breaks on the Ethiopian highlands and the first rays of sunshine brighten up the dusty dirt roads, you can finally see them clearly.

People on the move. Masses of them, thousands and thousands. Most of them walking, some running, a few on bicycles.

It’s a quarter to six on a winterly morning in the the lakeside town of Ziway, a few hours drive from the capital Addis Ababa.
Long lines of young women and men are on their way to the same main gate. Sleepy eyes, chatting, some laughter.

Behind the gate is the vast complex of greenhouses of Dutch-American firm Afriflora. Here all these workers will spend another day cutting and packing roses – bundles of roses that are immediately flown out of Africa to supermarkets in distant Europe.

Watchful eye
Like his workers John Barnhoorn woke up at 5 AM. It is routine for the rose grower from Rijnsdorp, a village near The Hague in the Netherlands that is known for its flower growers.

Every morning at the break of day he does his round in the huge greenhouses and packing halls.

"It is good for staff to see you walking around", says Barnhoorn.

His rose farm is one of the largest private employers in the Horn of Africa. Some fourteen thousand Ethiopians depend on the farm for their livelyhood.

 "It's fifteen thousand when you include the people on our pay roll who work in the schools, the hospital and other facilities Afriflora established in town", says Barnhoorn, a sturdy, quiet man in his forties.

He keeps a watchful eye on his surroundings. There's a reason for that.

Being a mega rose farmer in Ethiopia has stark challenges. Like the need to deploy a small army of guards with uzi's and shotguns.

The full story of the rose farm will be published on this website in 2018, together with other reports by Hans Moleman from Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.