There is a glimmer of hope for both the flower and horticultural sectors, as demand in the international markets begins to bounce back. The easing of import restrictions on fresh produce in Europe to allow in more fruit and vegetable supplies is brightening up the sector.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the flower sector in Kenya has been in a damp, as demand and consumption evaporated due to containment measures and interruption of the distribution and sales channels across its target markets and the globe. Flights in and out of the country were also grounded, paralysing movement. For the consumer, flowers and plants became of least concern.
As a result, almost 70 per cent of export sales from the normally vibrant and colourful sector were eroded, leaving farms in a depressed state and more than 150,000 jobs at a risk. About 500,000 value chain actors, including input providers were also affected and about 5 million livelihoods were at stake.
To save jobs and keep the sector running, stakeholders, led by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance came up with an initiative of compassion, where flowers would be given to the frontline actors (medical personnel) in the fight against Covid-19. Flowers have been distributed to public hospitals across the country and some flown to the UK, to appreciate the contribution of health workers there.
Increase in flower demand
“However, things are looking up for the sector,” said Mr Bimal Kantaria, Elgon Kenya’s managing director, during an interview at his company premises in Nairobi.
“In the last two weeks, there’s been a massive increase in the demand for flowers and horticultural products abroad. The biggest problem we had when the planes were grounded was that our produce couldn’t be exported. Now, a couple of flights have been taking produce out. Farms are also beginning to rehire staff,” he said.
Rejuvenating the sector is the impending Mother’s Day, May 10. “This is a big day for flower markets across the world. It presents a good opportunity for flower growers, who are excited about the opportunity to export their produce to the UK, US, Australia, China and Japan,” says Mr Kantaria.
“We are working closely with freight companies to ensure that we have enough space to cater for the demand,” he adds.
In 2018, the floriculture sector earned the country Ksh113 billion, contributing 1.07 per cent of the country’s GDP. It is the fourth largest contributor of foreign exchange after diaspora, tourism and tea.
Mr Kantaria was speaking to the Agriculture Media Society of Kenya journalists at an event that saw the company (Elgon Kenya) gift the journalists with food to support them during these difficult times. “Want to appreciate the Elgon family and the agriculture media are part of our family. We know that Covid-19 has hit all of us,” he said.
The company had done the same for its 600 workers, neighbours, and the nearby police station.
In the horticultural sector, farmers are set to benefit with the easing of import restrictions on fresh produce in Europe.
With the coronavirus hitting production and distribution in many countries hard, coupled with a logistics and transport system that almost ground to a halt globally, demand for fresh produce is growing.
Fresh Produce Consortium Kenya (FCPK) boss Okisegere Ojepat said:
“As we reel economically from the coronavirus measures, other nations, too, are reporting looming food shortages, so serious that Europe has now loosened its import requirements on fresh fruit and vegetables to draw in more supplies.”
Vegetables selling in Europe
The CEO added: “Across our nation, we need these crops. And Europe needs them, too. There is false reporting that we cannot sell our vegetables in Europe now. The opposite is true. It is seeking not only our normal supplies, but different and wider goods with less quality issues for the interim.”
“Europe is now introducing a Green Lane scheme to fast track importation and transportation of fresh foods, as its own fresh food supplies collapse, most notably in Spain, which is suddenly without its migrant agricultural labour force from North Africa,” Mr Ojepat explained.
“For Kenya, as the biggest horticultural exporter in Africa, this presents a challenge we can rise to,” he quipped.
“As a nation, we need to back our farmers, our food producers, and our food transporters and achieve our own food security and deliver food security to our buying nations, too. It’s possible. We have the produce, we have the transport to the local markets and to the airport, and we have planes, “he concluded.