Risks and ramifications of climate change are particularly acute in vulnerable industries in developing countries, but the consequences can have unexpected global reach. Kenya’s floriculture industry, represented by the Kenya Flower Council (KFC), currently produces 35% of all flowers sold in the European Union . Should the KFC fail to adapt to current challenges, abundant Valentine’s Day bouquets may become a thing of the past.
A high-growth industry, but is it all coming up roses?
The KFC is a voluntary association that includes the majority of Kenya’s independent growers and exporters of cut flowers . Significant investment in technology, precision farming, marketing, and human capital has allowed KFC firms to achieve impressive growth, as Kenya’s flower exports increased by 1,200% between 1988-2014 . In 2015, export volumes reached 122,000 tons at an estimated value of 62.9 billion Kenyan shillings ($620M USD), which accounted for 1.01% of Kenya’s GDP [4,5]. The industry directly employs 500,000 people, a significant part of the population .
Despite this growth, the KFC faces significant obstacles related to climate change that threaten the efficiency of flower production and the industry’s supply chain. Effects of decades of below-average rainfall in East Africa are exacerbated by Kenya’s limited freshwater supply [7,8]. Flower production is water-intensive, so dwindling resources put pressure on farms’ operating models. Furthermore, drought and population growth in primary growing regions have resulted in increased conflict between KFC member farms and local communities that have ancestral claims to land and water resources. 
Distribution occurs via daily air cargo transportation from Nairobi to Amsterdam, which presents sustainability concerns. According to a 2007 study, the carbon footprint of flying flowers from Kenya is six times smaller than producing flowers in the Netherlands, but transporting flowers from Kenya to Europe still requires significant fuel consumption [10,11]. This distribution model often results in reduced flower quality – primarily due to temperature fluctuations among the farms, flights, and arrival conditions – but the speed of air cargo has historically made this model essential given the short shelf-life of flowers.
Not resting on its laurels
In response to water scarcity issues, the KFC has taken two critical steps. First, the association partnered with the World Wild Fund to establish enabling conditions, including strengthened regulation, for more sustainable management of the Lake Naivasha Basin, the region responsible for 95% of Kenya’s cut flower exports . Secondly, the KFC worked across sectors with Camco Advisory Services, a regional firm focused on clean energy solutions, and the Horticultural Crops Development Authority to develop a Carbon Reduction, Resources, and Opportunities Toolkit (CaRROT). This accounting and management solution allows the KFC to measure greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency, and water consumption to target opportunities to improve its production efficiency .
With respect to distribution, Kenyan firms and Royal FloraHolland have experimented with refrigerated ocean containers as a less expensive, more environmentally-friendly cold chain alternative to air cargo under an initiative called Flowers@Sea. According to officials at Royal FloraHolland – the Wall Street for Flowers – the transition from air to ocean freight could reduce costs by 38% and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 87% . Furthermore, ocean transport allows for tightly controlled temperature management, which improves flower quality. One downside is increased lead time, as seaborne journeys between Africa and Europe take 28-30 days .
Next steps for the KFC
Flowers are price-elastic goods, so poor global economic conditions can dramatically affect demand, and certain production costs within Kenya may continue to rise due to inflation and other factors . To further mitigate risks associated with climate change and maintain demand, the KFC could consider the following actions:
- Improve producers’ forecasting capacity: The cost to ship flowers from Kenya to Europe averages $2.00/ kilogram by air but only $1.20/ kilogram by sea . Reduced costs are a plus, but increased ocean transport means firms must adjust to longer lags in the supply chain. The KFC should develop a solution similar to CaRROT that helps farms forecast demand from channel partners.
- Direct savings toward domestic cold chain infrastructure: Distribution will increasingly shift from Nairobi’s airport to the coastal city of Mombasa. While the state of the country’s roads presents overland transportation challenges, the KFC could invest savings generated from reduced air cargo in cold chain infrastructure to improve quality control within the domestic supply chain.
- Market eco-friendliness: Anticipating that European consumers will increasingly care about the environmental impact of their purchases, the KFC could negotiate with mass market retailers to ensure their flowers are labeled “eco-friendly” to increase demand for Kenyan exports.
 Milena Veselinovic, “Got roses this Valentine’s Day? They probably came from Kenya,” CNN, March 16, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/16/africa/kenya-flower-industry/, accessed November 3, 2016.
 “KFC Profile,” Kenya Flower Council, 2016, http://kenyaflowercouncil.org/, accessed November 2, 2016.
 Neil Ford, “A Time of Change for Agribusiness,” African Business (September 2016): 13.
 Shadrack Kavilu, “Kenya’s flourishing flower sector is not all roses for Masaai herdsmen,” Reuters, June 30, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-kenya-landrights-idUSKCN0ZG0Z0, accessed November 2, 2016.
 “Floriculture in Kenya,” Kenya Flower Council, 2016, http://kenyaflowercouncil.org/?page_id=92, accessed November 2, 2016.
 I. Niang, O. Ruppel, M.A. Abdrabo, A. Essel, C. Lennerd, J. Padgham, and P. Urquhart, “Africa,” Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Part B: Regional Aspects, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1207.
 Kenya Country Risk Report Q4 2016, BMI Research, October 2016, London, UK, 35.
 Kavilu, “Kenya’s flourishing.”
 David Bosomworth, “Shades of green,” Supply Management 15(10), 2010, 17.
 Vanessa Thevasthasan, “Kenya’s Peace Blooms: The Intersection of Water, Land, Power and People,” Huffington Post, February 18, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-thevathasan/kenyas-peace-blooms-the-i_b_6691816.html, accessed November 3, 2016.
 “IWRAP,” Kenya Flower Council, 2016, http://kenyaflowercouncil.org/?page_id=750, accessed November 2, 2016.
 “CaRROT,” Kenya Flower Council, 2016, http://kenyaflowercouncil.org/?page_id=745, accessed November 2, 2016.
 Reynolds Hutchins, “Flower shippers latest to test maritime cold chain,” Journal of Commerce, October 15, 2016.
 Martin Rivers, “Cold chain in focus as floriculture heats up,” African Business 418 (April 2015): 36.
 Rivers, “Cold chain,” 36.
 Rivers, “Cold chain,” 39.