Lake Naivasha Flowers
Depending on who you talk to, Lake Naivasha's blooming flower industry is either a blessing or a curse. The lake's freshwater bestows it with a unique ecosystem (many other Rift Valley lakes are highly alkaline), which means it can also be used for irrigation purposes.
Roses are the main export and, astoundingly, flowers picked here in the early morning can be at Europe's flower auctions the same day. In 2016, the industry generated US$141 million in revenues for the country, making it one of Kenya's most important foreign exchange earners. The industry attracts migrant workers from all over Kenya and there are more than 60 flower farms in the Lake Naivasha area, together employing 50,000 workers. So successful is the industry that an estimated 70% of the roses sold in the UK come from here.
But such success comes at a price. A decade ago, an international NGO called Women Working Worldwide (www.women-ww.org) exposed appalling conditions on many of the farms. Tighter regulations have generally led to improved working conditions – with the women making up the majority of the workforce, some farms now offer maternity leave and childcare facilities. There remain concerns, however, that not all farms have improved conditions for their workers, with low salaries, long hours and limited protection from harmful chemicals among the major concerns.
There are also environmental concerns. The cut-flower industry, especially roses, requires massive amounts of irrigation, raising concerns about water scarcity in an area where local subsistence farmers may not always get their share. The influx of workers has seen the population of the wider Lake Naivasha Basin swell from 300,000 in the mid-1990s to a projected population of more than one million by 2019, with all the concomitant strain that puts on already stretched resources. Increasing pollution in the lake and deforestation are just two of the growing environmental concerns.
It's a delicate balancing act between what is a hugely important local industry and the environment that sustains it. If you want to find out more, some of the better factories offer tours for visitors. Ask at your guesthouse or campsite for information.