Kenya’s flower farmers are among the country’s most important employers.
In heavy coats, workers move the boxes of flower arrangements from cold storage into refrigerated containers. After being packed, the flowers are transported hundreds of kilometres via road, using the specially designed controlled environment container, starting from Nairobi to the coast.
When it arrives at Kenya’s largest port, Mombasa, the container is loaded onto a vessel for a trip to Europe, lasting about 30 days. Despite the long journey, they’ll be available to European buyers with approximately one-week vase life.
How do you make this happen?
The blooms will stay at temperatures of 0.5 degrees Celsius throughout the trip. In addition to controlling temperature, the container’s atmospheric system lowers the oxygen level between 20 per cent and 4 per cent. It increases the level of carbon dioxide from 0.4 per cent to 4 per cent.
This technology is part of the intricate method of keeping the flowers to the maximum extent possible. This system can stop any activity from the flowers, which, as a result, enter a state of dormancy.
An advanced tracking device enables personnel from the company that ships to keep track of temperatures, oxygen levels and CO2 levels throughout the trip. However, the flowers destined for lengthy travel require additional focus to ensure they are prepared when they are chosen.
But the flowers intended for long journeys require additional focus to ensure they are ready right after being chosen.
How are flowers put to sleep for long sea voyages?
Farmers usually harvest flowers in the morning while it’s still warm, and they’ll be the first ones to be put in the cold room.
For instance, freshly picked roses. They are then dipped in an acidic mixture to shield them from the fungus botrytis.
Then the stems are placed in buckets to absorb the water solution to endure the 30 days without drinking water. The stems are then placed in a solution that inhibits the ethylene growth hormones, which triggers the flower’s ageing.
Once the process is finished, the flowers are put into boxes with holes on the bottom and top, allowing air from inside the containers to flow.
Flowers are submerged in chemicals to keep them fresh for longer.
Kenya is now one of the largest exporters of flowers due to its location in the equatorial region and its high altitudes and affordable labour costs. However, it faces a tough time competing in the market alongside Colombia and Ecuador.
For a long time, the two Latin American countries have been exporting around 10 per cent of their floral products through sea transport towards North America and Europe. Since the flowers are in the sea for a shorter period, businesses exporting to Latin America do not use a controlled atmosphere and post-harvest treatments.
How are flowers exported?
All processes involving shipping require extreme accuracy. There is no room for shortcuts. One wrong move, and your flower may end up in the compost pile of Europe.
Kenya has the ideal climate for commercial flower cultivation
The Kenyan Flowers’ complicated route is believed to have a higher chance of delays as containers can sometimes not arrive in their transfer window.
The Port of Mombasa is also notorious for its delays and bureaucracy. Another issue is that it isn’t equipped with a green line to transport perishable items and flowers. They must be stacked along with the other containers.
Because of these issues, Kenya’s flower growers have historically been cautious about shipping their flowers by sea because of these issues. They have preferred to ship their flower arrangements by air. However, this has changed their methods during the pandemic.
Sea freight is more affordable and has a smaller carbon footprint than air transport. Transport logistics got so complicated that some growers resorted to destroying parts from their crops. However, if you are concerned about the environmental impact associated with fresh flowers, it’s best to purchase flowers that are grown close to your home.