Kenyan roses take armed escorts
By Heidi Vogt (The Associated Press)
NAIVASHA, Kenya - In a country strangled by anger and fear, it is
taking armed escorts and emergency airlifts to make sure that
Kenya's most warmhearted export - the rose - arrives in time for
Kenyan flowers - mostly roses - account for a quarter of Europe's
cut flower imports, and Kenyan growers have been pushing to keep
exports up for the holiday despite ethnic violence that has
paralyzed the East African country.
They've chartered planes to embattled western cities, enlisted
police to protect flower-truck convoys and made pleading cell
phone calls to frightened workers urging them to return.
It seems to be working - European buyers say they haven't seen a
shortage of Kenyan roses. But flower exports require
predictability, and if unrest continues, Kenya's flower industry
could quickly follow tourism as the next shattered pillar of the
The central town of Naivasha - which grows 60 percent of Kenya's
flowers - was hit last month. Dozens of people were hacked to
death and homes were torched in one of many waves of violence
since a disputed Dec. 27 election sparked ethnic clashes.
Flower farms were relatively untouched, but no one showed up to
pick the roses and hypericum at Wildfire Flowers the next day, or
the day after.
"We had to call them ... tell them now it's OK, you can come back
to us," said Ann Mugi, who oversees the warehouse at Wildfire
Flowers where flowers are packed for shipping. She tried first by
phone, then sent runners out to homes to try in person.
Now, with about two weeks of calm since the attacks, workers have
trickled back and flower shipments are getting back on track.