Famed for its vibrant roses, carnations and summer flowers, Kenya is one of the biggest flower exporters in the world. So with global transport networks at a halt, UK florists like Tanith Fix-James have been left to trade on limited supply. But what of the 70,000 flower farmers in Kenya whose livelihoods are being threatened? Louise Donovan investigates

Tanith Fix-James quite likes funerals. “I know that sounds strange,” the florist acknowledges over the phone, but she’d choose farewells over fairy-lit weddings any day.

When an order lands in her inbox, the 35-year-old carefully begins hand-picking bouquets for her customers in Knighton, a small town on the Welsh border. For deceased loved ones, she says, people tend to go for something bespoke: the word ‘Mum’ crafted out of chrysanthemums as white as snow; bunches of ‘baby’s breath’ (tiny, cloud-like blooms).

“If in any way the flowers that I provide help a family when they’re at their darkest, I feel like it’s my duty,” explains Tanith, who opened her first florist shop aged 18. Tanith Fix-James, owner of The Flower Box in Wales So when, in March, her suppliers cancelled all upcoming orders the day after the UK’s coronavirus lockdown measures swung into effect, she sat down and sobbed. As the global transport networks spluttered to a halt, she couldn’t get her hands on any flowers, and had to start turning people away. “I was answering the phone and saying: ‘I understand that your nan’s died, and that you desperately want this and that, but I’ve only got a few bits leftover. I can’t get anymore.’ For me, it was heartbreaking.”

As reports of Covid-19 cases mounted, Tanith’s sales at The Flower Box dropped by half. A selection of flowers from one of Tanith’s suppliers, Safari Garden (Photo Credit: Anna Langmead) The reason is two-fold: Cancelled events meant demand for flowers evaporated overnight. At the same time, restricted flights left growers in the Netherlands, Ecuador, Colombia, Kenya and Ethiopia unable to ship via passenger or cargo plane (or it became more expensive to).

You might not have given the global flower trade much thought before, but it’s huge, and was worth £13.4 billion in 2015. Kenya is Europe’s biggest supplier, shipping roughly £815 million worth of flowers each year. Lockdowns in European countries, therefore, have had a devastating trickle-down effect on the floriculture sector. Kenyan roses growing in the field (Photo Credit: Anna Langmead) In 2018, the UK market alone was worth £1.3billion—the majority of it coming from Kenyan flower farms after being auctioned in the Netherlands. Tanith orders half her stock from Safari Garden, a grower collective in Kenya offering mixed boxes via online market Florismart (the other half is from auctions).

While flowers often can feel like a luxury, behind them lies an intricate supply-chain of farmers, workers, wholesalers, aeroplanes, florists and supermarkets—and one that has been uniquely altered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As Tanith sat at her computer, some 4000 miles away Nafula Nyongesa, 27, worried about feeding her two children. She works as a […]