Outside the ground is frozen, quite possibly covered in snow and ice, and yet, stroll through a supermarket in North America or Europe in February, and you’ll be confronted with large displays of roses. We expect flowers in winter, and equatorial countries meet those expectations. A quarter of the cut flowers sold in Europe are grown in Kenya. Straddling the equator, Kenya gets steady sunlight dealt out in days that vary little in length. It’s the perfect climate for flowers year-round. The center of Kenya’s flower industry is Lake Naivasha, shown here.
The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) flying on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of Lake Naivasha on February 2, 2008. Bright white squares mix with fields of green, tan, and purple along the shores of the lake. Sunlight glints off the long rows of glass greenhouses, turning them silvery blue and white in this view from space. Fallow fields are tan and pink, while growing plants turn the ground bright green. Roses, lilies, and carnations are the most common flowers grown in the greenhouses and fields scattered around the lake. The large-scale industry shown here extends into small-scale rural farms elsewhere in Kenya, where smaller filler flowers are grown.
The flowers provide an important source of income to Kenya, but the industry comes with a price. Flowers are not held to the same standards for chemical residues as food products, which are tightly regulated. Strong chemical pesticides can be used on the flowers to produce the perfect, pest-free bloom, and this could pose a health risk to workers and local wildlife, including hippos, environmental groups told the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2002. The chemicals may also have threatened the water quality of Lake Naivasha, one of Kenya’s few freshwater lakes. The Kenya Flower Council instituted a code of conduct establishing guidelines for pesticide that phases out the use of one of the most toxic pesticides.
NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Caption by Holli Riebeek.