This Valentine's Day, there's a good chance your flowers came from Kenya. "I know the flowers are for giving on Valentine's Day," Phanice Cherop, a worker at a flower farm in Kenya, tells the AP. "We do not really do this here in Kenya. No man has ever given me." On a crisp February morning, Cherop squeezed through a row of shoulder-high white roses, cut a flower, and placed it in the bunch she carried. The Kenyan-grown flower was likely headed for a vase in Australia, England, Japan, or the United States. Kenya's cool climate and high altitude make it perfect for growing large, long-lasting roses. Such conditions have helped make Kenya become the world's fourth-biggest supplier after the Netherlands, Ecuador, and Colombia. The Kenya Flower Council said exports rose from 86,480 tons in 2006 to 136,601 tons in 2014.
Flowers are intricately tied to the global economy. When it collapsed in 2008, the cut-flower trade lost $1.5 billion the following year. In 2013, global exports of cut flowers, cut foliage, living plants, and flower bulbs amounted to $20.6 billion, more than twice the amount in 2001. International events, including Russia's war in Ukraine and plummeting oil prices, have shaped flower fortunes for numerous Kenyan farms. Sales to oil-producing nations, such as Norway and those in the Middle East, have dropped due to their reduced spending power. Kenya is the sixth-largest flower exporter to the US, per the US Customs and Border Protection; Kenya supplies the European Union with 38% of its cut-flower imports. And the drop in Russian demand isn't translating into a drop of the price of a bouquet this Valentine's Day. "There is always a big volume at this time of year and people will always be buying roses, so the price goes up," says a director at Kenya's Horticultural Council.