The government of South Africa’s Free State Province has set its sights on exploiting the flower industry as a means to grow the economy and boost tourism.

The concept was born from a high-level provincial government’s trade visit to the Portuguese island of Madeira in March this year. This past weekend, the streets of the northern Free State town of Parys came alive with flowers.

About 600 colourfully clad dancers took part in the Flower Festival parade with five floats representing the five districts of the province adorned with a total of 150 thousand flowers. There was a lot of excitement in the air.

Flowers are used to express love, to wish loved once a speedy recovery or to comfort the bereaved. However their economic viability is under-exploited in the Free State.

Madeira has a population of 300,000 and Madeira President Miguel Albuquerque says Madeira has been hosting a flower festival for the past 20 years over a three-week period, attracting an estimated seven million tourists annually.

“We are fully booked during those three weeks and all the hotels are fully booked. The people love it and enjoy it … they spend lots of money.”

Free State Premier Ace Magashule says plans are afoot to create opportunities in the local flower industry. “We must put a budget for the flower (festival) and ensure that our black farmers or experts, because we have graduates of horticulture, they actually establish their own companies and grow the economy of the Free State …. that’s why we are going to put in the budget and work with Madeira.”

Mangaung Metro horticulturist Boithabelo Litsela says career opportunities in the sector are wide.

“You can become a landscaper. You can design gardens for people. You can design city entrances. In the malls, you see those beautiful tress, they are designed by landscapers and also you can focus on the production side. That’s where you do seedling and you can do cuttings…then there is the maintenance side.”

The organizers of the festival in Parys have promised an even bigger spectacle next year.