Nurses, doctors and other caregivers from six major public hospitals in Nairobi recently benefited from a new campaign dubbed, “Flowers of Hope”, where each was presented with a bouquet of flowers in recognition of the important role they play in saving lives.

The beneficiaries were from Kenyatta National Hospital, Mbagathi Hospital, Pumwani Maternity Hospital, Mama Lucy hospital, Mathare Hospital and the National Spinal Injury Referral Hospital.

The campaign launched by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) is also aimed at supporting the flower sector and farm workers in the face of the Covid-19 epidemic.

“The campaign is informed by the realities brought forth by how the Covid-19 pandemic is impacting world economies. Businesses in Kenya, particularly the cut-flower industry, are confronting the harsh reality of the virus, which has put in peril one of Kenya’s most successful and internationally acclaimed sectors,” said Kepsa chief executive officer Carol Karuga, in a press release.

Effects of Covid-19 on the flower sector

This sector, which is Kenya’s fourth largest foreign exchange earner, is facing collapsed sales in the target markets in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. Sales by local florists have also declined to almost zero, due to the pandemic.

Statistics from the Kenya Flower Council indicate that the sale of cut flowers in overseas markets is below 35 per cent of what we would expect at this time of the year. Retailers (supermarkets) are open for essential foodstuffs but cut flowers remain on the shelves.

Ms Karuga added: “To support the sector, we want to use Kenyan flowers as a uniting symbol of the community solidarity and compassion emerging in Kenya and indeed the world in response to Covid-19, showing gratitude and support to the people at the frontline of or suffering from the pandemic, while also saving thousands of farm jobs.”

In 2018, the floriculture sector earned the country Ksh113 billion, contributing 1.07 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product. It consists of both large exporters and small-scale farmers, and about 60 per cent of Kenya’s flower farm workers are women.

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Nurturing the flower

The floriculture industry deals with perishables. Flower plants need to be kept alive and healthy, otherwise they will die and the industry will lose its ability to supply when the markets open.

Despite the lack of sales, growers must still water, fertilise and look after the flowers, or the plant deteriorates and will not deliver flowers in the future. Security must also be maintained to protect the farm infrastructure and people. Labour is still required to perform these tasks, so that once the pandemic passes, production and sales can return to the expected levels. These ongoing operational costs exceed by a clear margin the revenue from reduced sales.

Kenya Flower Council CEO Clement Tulezi noted: “Every hectare of rose plants costs $100,000 and each plant is expected to last five years. The total area of roses under cultivation is 2,000ha and this alone represents an investment of $200 million.

  “We care about the people we work with. The cut flowers sub-sector’s growth is hinged on the unique skills and dedication of our workers. We are determined to keep the skills after the crisis. We are committed to remaining a key player in the creation of jobss for local people. Currently, we employ over 150,000 Kenyans directly and a further 500,000 from those who supply goods and services.”

Kepsa boss Karuga added: “It is on the basis of the need to support our front-line of defence and encourage them, while also protecting over 4 million livelihoods that this campaign was born.”

The campaign, which will also go on in other parts of the country, will be implemented Kepsa members that include the Kenya Flower Council (KFC), Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), Elgon Kenya, Kenya Airways and JamboJet. Others are the partners of Kepsa such as volunteers from Rotary Kenya and Women of Kenya initiative.

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Elgon Kenya is providing the flower sleeves.

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