Got roses this Valentine's Day? They probably came from Kenya

Story highlights

  • Kenya is one of the biggest flower exporters in the world
  • Around one in three flowers sold in Europe come from the country

(CNN)If you were the lucky recipient of a bunch of fragrant roses this Valentine's Day, it's likely that they came from Kenya.

The country is the third largest exporter of cut flowers in the world, accounting for around 35% of all sales in the European Union. Famed for being long-lasting, Kenya's roses, carnations and summer flowers are also popular in Russia and the U.S. where last week several growers showcased their blooms at the World Floral Expo in Los Angeles.
The event is one of the industry's largest and gathers over 80 exhibitors from across the world, with several Ethiopian growers also representing the African continent alongside Kenya.
    Benan Barwick/CNN
    The country's flower power is attributed to its sunny climate, which enables high-quality blossoms to be grown year-round without the need for expensive-to-run greenhouses. Kenya also has excellent transport links to Europe, and from there, the rest of the world through Nairobi airport, which has a terminal dedicated specially to the transport of flowers and vegetables. This means that delicate floral cargo which is perishable in nature can be shifted from growers to consumers swiftly.
    More than 500,000 people in the country depend on the trade according to the Kenya Flower Council, with roughly half of the country's 127 flower farms concentrated around Lake Naivasha, around 90 kilometers northwest of Nairobi.
    "Naivasha is a big center because it's a freshwater lake and it is not very far from Nairobi, which makes transport easy," says John Kihia, technical director of Floralife Africa, a company which provides hydration, transport and storage for the cut-flower industry. "People have been growing flowers there for a long time so there is a skilled labor force in place," he adds.
    Benan Barwick/CNN
    Activists have expressed concerns over the environmental impact that the booming trade could inflict on the lake, but local farmers have been working with the WWF in order to make sure that water levels are not affected: "It's about putting together a strong business case about why it's good for growers to save water and ways to manage that," says Drew McVey, WWF technical adviser who calls the collaboration "a story of success."
    Naivasha Lake's location 1,884 meters above sea level is particularly fertile ground for medium-sized roses which are often found in the floral sections of EU supermarkets, whereas farms in higher altitudes yield bigger blooms popular in Russia: "It's a consumer preference. In Moscow people will buy a single rose, so if it's bigger it naturally looks more spectacular, whereas in the UK they buy bunches more often," says Kihia.
    Big business
    Horticulture has been one of the top foreign exchange earners for Kenya, and the flower industry alone raked in around $600m last year, exporting 124,858 t