The Coronavirus has turned life upside down for all of us. Sneeze guards that were once relegated to places like the Old Country Buffets of the world, are now in our banks and outdoor break areas at work. Ashy hands abound throughout the country and lotion is at a premium due to the excessive hand washing regiments we’ve all adopted. Breath mints we once offered each other we now covet as our face masks remind us of our own breath’s olfactory emissions.
There is one annual celebration that is recognized throughout our country that is close at hand that has snuck up on us like so many December 24ths. As we approach May 1st, Mother’s Day is looming. And like so many of us have thought in years past, flowers come to mind. Social distancing and shelter-in-place orders won’t stop us from whipping out our credit cards and sending two dozen flowers to our mothers since we can’t go out to dinner or visit in 2020. Not so fast.
This year there is a dearth of inventory. Flowers are not in abundance like they were in 2019. There’s an international market for flowers that originates in a place that you probably never stopped to imagine.
There is a global horticulture infrastructure based in the Netherlands that ships flowers internationally to supply the majority of the global demand. However, over 1 billion dollars of that inventory comes from Africa. Specifically, those flowers come from Kenya and Ethiopia.
The Coronavirus hasn’t impacted the supply in the traditional sense. The workers in Africa have been largely unaffected. They continue to work by the tens of thousands producing their annual supply of flowers to the international market. It’s the buyers that have caused the slowdown. Since Europe began its shutdown, Kenyan and Ethiopian exporters have seen their sales decrease by as much as 50%.
Just to put this into perspective Kenya employs over 350,000 people in the flower industry. And the flower industry is Ethiopia’s fourth largest export industry. Right now they are only exporting about 20% of their normal volume.
In an effort to prevent the Ethiopian flower industry from collapsing and to keep foreign exchange flowing into the country, the government has designated the sector as essential – meaning its companies and its estimated 150,000 workers can keep operating despite the state of emergency measures.
So this year and in all the years to come, remember that on Valentine’s Day, International Women’s Day, and Mother’s Day that you are not just supporting your mother and the women in your life. When you buy your roses, lilies, tulips, or carnations you are also supporting Africa and Africans.