Kenya: COVID-19 - Kenya's Flower Industry On Its Knees

(file photo).

The country's horticulture industry - its third-largest foreign exchange earner is on its knees.

The sector which garners around $1.15 billion annually - is suffering from lockdowns caused by the coronavirus in its main markets in Europe.

According to the Kenya Flower Council Chief Executive Officer Mr Clement Tulezi, sales of cut flowers in overseas markets has been below 35 per cent in the past Month.

"In the last one week, we have started to see a slight steady recovery in the international market. Demand is beginning to grow - a sign that the flower industry could get back on track." He said.

This improvement however now poses a new challenge. The available freight capacity cannot accommodate the rise in volume demand.

"Prior to the outbreak the capacity available per week approximately 5000 tons. Today, the capacity stands at 1300 tons for all commodities - flowers, fish, vegetables etc. Yet, the current demand for exports is 3500 tons per week." Mr Tulezi added.

The sudden decline of the demand in the international market and the fact that most exporters stopped shipping, forced most carriers to cancel fights early March. The decline in the passenger flights globally, including the national carrier has meant that demand for the freighters is huge.

And the 1 million dollar charters are in high demand. The lure of Kenyan is not exciting any more. Further, the lockdown in African countries has impacted on crew rest, making it impossible to operate the long sectors.

"Airlines have increased their rates tremendously. They are currently charging more than doubled the initial cost from Nairobi to most market destinations." Says the CEO adding that as a result exporters are unable to meet these exorbitant prices. Yet, they have to service orders for the European Mother's Day this week.

The cut-flower industry in Kenya provides direct employment to an estimated 150,000 people, majority women, and overall, creates employment for more than a million people indirectly, impacting in excess of 6 million lives. These opportunities are at risk.

Exporters are now require urgent support to keep transport going ad inject new life into the Kenya flower industry.

"We can work with the bigger freight forwarders in Nairobi to attract some capacity, but it comes at a cost higher than industry can afford. A cost-sharing model to lessen the burden on exporters will go a long way in helping survive this catastrophe and save lives." Says the Mr Tulezi.

KFC is now urging Kenya's national carrier, Kenya Airways to utilize its passenger fleet for cargo to inject in extra capacity with a guaranteed southbound traffic.

"We therefore appeal to government to expeditiously step in with short term support such as subsidizing of jet fuel for Kenya Airways to lower costs for exporters. This will also create traffic that could ultimately attract more freighters into Nairobi." Mr Tulezi added.

The Kenya Flower Council (KFC) is a voluntary membership organization of growers and exporters of cut flowers and other supply chain actors. KFC works towards ensuring that Kenya remains a leading worldwide player in the international floriculture industry.

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