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With Weddings And Celebrations Off In Europe, Kenyan Flower Growers Struggle

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Industries have been battered by the coronavirus pandemic. As weddings and celebrations have been put on hold, the flower industry in Kenya has withered. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: The Utee Estate sits right on the Great Rift Valley. It's beautiful out here. In the distance, I see rolling hills. Appasa Mane, who manages this flower farm, guides me along a dirt road.

APPASA MANE: We produce chrysanthemums, lilies.

PERALTA: Ninety percent of his business has disappeared overnight.

MANE: And the worst thing with the agriculture is we cannot stop the production. We cannot store the raw material like the other factories or other industries.

PERALTA: The flower bulbs he's bought won't keep for long, and it takes 14 weeks to cultivate flowers. So if he doesn't keep planting, he won't have anything to sell when this pandemic ends. He walks into one of the huge greenhouses, and it bursts with color.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS SINGING)

PERALTA: Wow. Look at all of these. They're blooming.

MANE: Yeah. And you feel the smell...

PERALTA: The smell is amazing.

MANE: Yeah. But...

PERALTA: Wow.

Thousands of pink, fuchsia and white lilies in full bloom - this isn't normal. These flowers are supposed to bloom at wedding chapels or homes where people are celebrating Mother's Day, an anniversary, a graduation. Instead, they're blooming on the farm, and then they are being shredded by a rotavator.

MANE: We are just removing these nets and rotavator.

PERALTA: Oh, that has to...

MANE: Yeah.

PERALTA: That has to hurt.

MANE: It's very painful.

PERALTA: Yeah.

MANE: This is the first time in my life - I'm working since 2004 in the floriculture, and this is the first time in my life - this is the worst situation I'm going through.

PERALTA: Since this pandemic took off, the whole continent is hurting. Oil-rich countries are reeling from a drop in prices, tourism has completely stalled, and lockdowns across many countries have decimated local demand for pretty much everything.

FRANCOIS CONRADIE: There's never been anything like this.

PERALTA: That's Francois Conradie, an economist at NKC African Economics. He says there is no parallel to this moment on the continent - not the Great Recession, not the commodities collapse of 2014. And African governments can't pump trillions into their economies.

CONRADIE: We can't just suddenly start doing quantitative easing and so on. We don't have that currency privilege that the euro and the dollar have.

PERALTA: The African Union is predicting that 20 million jobs will be lost, and total GDP will flirt with negative territory. Conradie says it is anyone's guess if certain firms - flower exporters, airlines, garment factories - will survive.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS SINGING)

PERALTA: Back on the flower farm, Appasa Mane says he can survive two months, but he understands what's happening. It's sad, he says, but flowers are just not a priority during a global pandemic.

MANE: No one is thinking about the flower. They're thinking about their safety and food.

PERALTA: They're thinking about survival.

MANE: Yeah, right. Exactly.

PERALTA: Suddenly, a worker jumps on a tractor and begins to till right over his flowers.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRACTOR RUNNING)

PERALTA: Beautiful white mums become just white specks on the earth. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Limuru, Kenya.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.