Ethiopia’s floral industry could wither under Amhara conflict

by MMC
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Ethiopia is known for its colorful and fragrant flowers which it exports around the world. Its horticultural sector is the fifth largest in the world. But it faces a major crisis due to escalating violence in the northern Amhara region. The conflict, which pits federal troops against local militias, has disrupted the operations of many flower farms, threatening their productivity and profitability.

Ethiopia’s floral industry generated more than $650 million in revenue in 2022, according to the country’s horticultural association. Most of its exports are fresh-cut roses, which are in high demand for occasions like Christmas and Valentine’s Day in Western countries. Last year, Ethiopia exported 2.7 million kilograms of flowers to the European market just for Valentine’s Day. The peak season for flower exports is from December to June. But this year, it risks being hit hard by the conflict in the Amhara region, which is home to many flower plantations.

Violence has raged in the Amhara region since August, when local activists launched a rebellion against the federal government, accusing it of marginalizing and oppressing the Amhara people. Federal troops responded with a fierce crackdown, resulting in hundreds of deaths and thousands of displacements. The conflict has also disrupted supply chains, transport networks and the security of flower farms, forcing many to stop or reduce their operations. The Amhara regional government said it had lost up to $45 million, mainly due to flower exports, as well as mass layoffs, since the conflict began.

The floral industry is one of the pillars of Ethiopia’s economy and a key part of its growth and transformation plan, which aims to make the country a middle-income economy by 2025. The plan involves attracting foreign investors and industries, such as European flower producers. to businesses, offering incentives such as tax-free access, loans and subsidies for electricity and water. The aim is to create jobs and reduce poverty for Ethiopians, who mainly depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Ethiopia’s flower export sector has seen strong growth over the past decade, with some of the world’s best flower companies operating farms across the country. These businesses benefit from the favorable climate, fertile soil and low-cost labor that Ethiopia offers. However, they also face various challenges, such as shortage of foreign exchange, political instability and human rights violations.

Over the past three years, some of the major foreign investors in the meat and textile export sectors have left Ethiopia due to these issues, as well as the country’s exclusion from the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade agreement with the United States that grants preferential access to African products. There are fears that flower growers will follow suit, especially if the conflict in the Amhara region persists or worsens.

Conflict often unbalances vital economic sectors, and Ethiopia has seen an unhealthy dose of it in recent years. In 2016 and 2020, at the height of the political crisis and the uprising against the government in Addis Ababa, several flower farms in the Oromia region were destroyed and forced to temporarily close their doors. The Oromia region is another hotspot of ethnic tension and violence in Ethiopia, where the Oromo people, the country’s largest ethnic group, are demanding more autonomy and representation. The Oromia region is also the main source of Ethiopia’s coffee exports, another vital sector.

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