January 30, 2013

Sparkle, Adoration, Museveni, and Zebra

If you're sitting in Amsterdam or Berlin, looking at a vase of long-stemmed roses (or anticipating such on Valentine's Day), there's a fairly good chance they've come to you from Kenya.  

Flowers, particularly roses, are one of Kenya's biggest agricultural exports, surpassed only by tea (I think).  Apparently the Rift Valley is well-suited for floriculture (yes, it's a word), and the area around Lake Naivasha is dotted with flower-farms.  The exports are too delicate to travel as far as the U.S., but Kenya is one of the biggest flower-suppliers to the E.U.  So much so that after the Icleandic volcano explosion of 2010, Kenya lost millions of US$ daily due to cancelled flights.  For shame, Eyjafjallaj√∂kull!

Before the holidays I tagged along on a friend's work-related trip to one of these farms, because tagging-along is by far the best way to learn and see things you would have never cared about otherwise.  Incidentally, it's also the best way to spend time with vising friends when they're on work-related trips.  

So we made an appointment with a farm just outside of Nairobi, and were given a full tour of the facilities: the factory, the farm, the furry farm animals.

Dozens of different rose varietals with names like "Sparkle" and "Adoration" are bred and grown inside rows of greenhouses.  Separate greenhouses are used to breed small, red, mite-sized pests that look like the ferocious offspring of bedbugs and fleas.  Apparently these red bugs are the good pests who eat the bad pests who destroy flowers.  Thus, the red mites are bred, harvested, transferred to the flower greenhouses, and then washed away before distribution.

Angry red swarms of bio-friends

Peering into harvest jars

After flowers are harvested they're brought to the factory for shucking of thorns, packaging, and shipping.  As you might note from the pesticide-free pest control, the particular farm we visited was very bio-friendly.  No tractors, no fuel, just donkeys named "Museveni" ("This one likes to be a bit aggressive") and "Zebra" ("What do you mean 'identity crisis?'") transporting flowers between venues.  


Thorn shuckin'

In the hours between when they are shucked and the next flight to Berlin, the flowers chill-out in a walk-in refrigerator to keep from blooming prematurely.  Then they're packed on ice and sent to the airport.  If you ever take a factory tour of flower farms in Kenya or elsewhere, bring a parka for the warehouse.  


And the most endearingly-genuine white-board message I've ever seen in a warehouse:

Hence build trust in our customers

Then packaged and shipped, for your Valentine's Day pleasure.


  1. Hey - cool that you got to see this stuff in person. As you may know, I work for the Rainforest Alliance, which certifies sustainable flower farms (among many other agricultural and forest products). Our donors went on a trip to Kenya last year, including a stop at the Africa Flowers run by Tropical Farm Management in Thika which is Rainforest Alliance certified. I wonder if it was the same farm?!

  2. Hi Julia,

    We went to Mangana Flower Farm, just outside Nairobi. I don't think (or I don't know) they have any official Rainforest Alliance certification, but they're certainly pioneering a lot of the bio-friendly ways to farm.

    Glad you're doing well!