With February 14 just around the corner, flower farmers are already gearing up for the high sales season.
This is a most challenging time, as demand, especially for the red roses, usually outstrips supply. The red rose, often considered a symbol of love, takes the number one spot in the hearts of many flower enthusiasts and buyers across the globe, thanks to St Valentine’s Day, celebrated globally as the day of romance.
And the Kenyan rose tops the global charts – it is loved by many for its longer shelf-life, bigger head and longer stems, with lots of varieties and colours in-between.
That is why today, it contributes one percent of Kenya’s GDP, with about 800 million individual stems passing through The FloraHolland auction every year besides the direct sales to local customers.
Export earnings from cut flowers grew by 16.1 percent to Sh82.2 billion in 2017 and accounted for 71.3 percent of the total earnings from horticulture in the same year, mainly occasioned by a 19.7 percent increase in export volumes.
According to Mr Matti Arielle, of Decofresh Roses, the biggest buyers of flowers in Europe are Holland and Germany, followed by France and United Kingdom.
“It is a tradition in these countries for people to purchase flowers daily or weekly for their houses. Many other purchases are event-driven, including weddings and funerals.
However, more and more youngsters are also purchasing flowers today because of availability on the internet,” he adds.
With 38 percent of cut flower imports into the European Union originating from Kenya, the local flower sector is at a unique position to reap maximum benefits.
Ecuador, Colombia and Kenya, the top flower producing nations of the world, are battling for the control of the vast European market.
“But Kenya has a lot of advantages over other African countries,” says Mr Arielle, who spoke during a recent visit by a group Kenyan journalists to the firm at the Royal FloraHolland flower trading centre at Alsmeer in the Netherlands.
Even if Ethiopia, which broke into the flower sector market about 15 years ago, poses competition for Kenya, it has its own unique challenges.
“I don’t see any other African countries eclipsing Kenya because the climates are not the same. In Kenya, roses are produced all-year round and it is one of the few countries with the right climate. It is close to the equator, and has just the right amount of daylight. Uganda and Zimbabwe may be coming up, but growing these types of roses would be challenging for them, says the co-owner of Decofresh, a marketing initiative started 15 years ago. Decofresh markets produce for 12 leading flower farms in Kenya based in Njoro and Nakuru area, selling over 200 million stems of cut flowers every year. “South America, Ecuador and Colombia might compete with moved to Kenya for the reasons cited by Mr Arielle.
“We moved our breeding to Kenya to achieve higher productivity, bigger head sizes and varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases,” chief executive officer Jelle Posthumus told Smart Farmer in an interview at the company’s farm, a few kilometres off the Lord Egerton Castle in Ngata, Nakuru County.
“We also needed to come up with a spray assortment that is distinctive from the standard ones,” he added. United Selections produces some of the most-sought-after cut roses on the international market, and has clients in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa.
The company has also set its sights on breeding the scented lines of sprays. After six years of trials and strong selections, it came up with a new spray line, boosting its variety portfolio and shaking up the spray roses market.
“Kenya’s floriculture is booming coupled with expansion in major flower farms. And this means that as breeders, we need to provide more varieties to fulfill market demand,” he notes.
According to Mr Arielle, Decofresh farms are also expanding. “The businesses are doing well, though this is not to say they are without challenges,” he explains. “I see a rosy future for Kenyan flowers. My livelihood depends on it,” he says.
“Initially we looked at the global approach to flowers but we now only deal with Kenyan flowers. I travel the world representing Kenyan growers and farms,” he adds. Decofresh receives hundreds of varieties of roses from the country while 100s more are under research.
Mr Arielle visits Kenya every six weeks for seven days to meet with the flower growers. The firm has a team on the ground, which communicates with farmers on a daily basis to counter any challenges. It also receives flowers from the growers, processes, inspects and prepares them for export.
Dutch Flower Group (DFG), one of the companies we visited during our tour of the Royal FloraHolland, is also one of the biggest buyers of Kenya’s roses. It handles 2.5 million rose flower stems from Kenya daily, according to Mr Marcel Zandvliet, the director of marketing and CSR.
The company, which receives 42 flights with flower cargo weekly from Kenya, is a family of more than 30 different international traders. It exports flowers and plants to 60 countries, distributes 75 million stems of cut flowers and 10 million bouquets weekly.