Smallholder flower farming is set to be a rapidly growing market in Kenya, says Agriculture Secretary Wilson Songa
“There are 150 medium and large scale flower farmers and we want to increase the numbers under the medium-term Agriculture Development Sector Strategy 2010-2020, which seeks to prepare the sector to contribute its role in the attainment of the vision 2030,” said Mr Songa, speaking at a smallholder flowers stakeholders workshop in Thika recently.
Key dates for Kenya’s flower market are Mother’s Day, Christmas, New Year and the most valuable day of the year to the flower industry, Valentines Day. A single rose stem can cost up to Sh150 on Valentines Day, while on a regular day one can get a bunch of 20 stems for the same price. Kenya is one of the world’s top exporters of cut flowers, and the horticulture industry is consistently among the top of the country’s foreign exchange earners, bringing in $1.3bn in 2009. However, local industry is yet to take off; the Kenya Flower Council estimates that only approximately five per cent of the total volume produced in Kenya is sold locally. This is an area which the Flower Council wishes to address over the next few years.
In Nairobi, there are about 200 flower vendors, whose turnover last year was estimated to be approximately three million shillings. The local industry relies on burials, weddings and the supply of hotels and offices as the Kenyan culture does not deem the buying of flowers as particularly important.
The interesting irony is that although Kenya is one of the world’s top exporters of cut flowers, and the horticulture industry is consistently among the top of the countries foreign exchange earners, Kenyan men prefer not to send flowers. The growing market is due mostly to women at this stage. When President Mwai Kibaki visited the Nakuru Agricultural Show last year, he was impressed to see at close range what has brought Kenya so much fame outside of East Africa.
With Valentines Day being so financially crucial to the success of the flower industry, events like the March 2010 Iceland volcano eruption illustrate just how important Kenya is to the worldwide flower market. Prices increased by 50 per cent, a development which the Dutch Auctions attributed to the absence of the Kenyan rose.
Similarly, in early 2008 when roads to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and farm activities were disrupted by post-election violence, the industry is said to have lost more than Ksh10bn and prices in the markets rocketed. When a country supplies nearly 40 per cent of all flowers sold in Europe, a break in supply only highlights the reliance the rest of the world has on Kenya.
So what of the future? The flower council wants the Nairobi city council to establish cold storage markets for flowers and allow the setting up of branded kiosks where vendors can sell them to encourage the public to appreciate flowers. “The storage facilities would greatly help in keeping the flowers fresh so that when people buy them, they can last longer,” said council chairman Erastus Mureithi who added that in Europe, flower kiosks can be seen everywhere, yet in Kenya, the flower country, there is nothing to showcase them. In addition, the Flower Council is also keen to see flower kiosks in international airports. As Kenya gradually comes to terms with the financial opportunities in the domestic market, the council expect to see a change in attitudes to the humble flower.