Kenya: Flower Industry Needs Friendly Government Policies - Maina

(file photo).
19 September 2020

Kenya's flower industry is one of the country's top foreign exchange earners. Those familiar with the sector know how highly the Kenyan rose is regarded out there due to its quality.

This stems from natural advantages such as the country's geographical positioning astride the equator.

Kenya, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Columbia are the four best spots to produce flowers naturally.

Being largely an export industry, our flowers have been hit hard by the outbreak of Covid-19, leading to massive loss of revenues and jobs.

Reports indicate exporters are preparing for the high season, which begins in September and stretches all the way to June.

Sales peak in December and are highest in February - the month of Valentine's Day - and are also good on Mother's Day and Easter.

This year, immediately after a good Valentine's Day, Covid-19 hit the markets, grounding produce as flights and countries shut.

Tonnes of flowers were destroyed, crops were forced into dormancy, workers were sent home and many suppliers of goods and services remain unpaid.

As the world adjusts to Covid-19 and businesses resume, the air of uncertainty in the flower sector is a cause for concern.

Flowers are a luxury and in a depressed global economy, the produce is not a priority buy.

Flower farms say profit margins have fallen from a high of 20 per cent in early 2000 to less than 3 per cent before Covid-19 and nil during the pandemic.

Future of Kenya's flower industry

High production costs, multiple taxes, lack of incentives in a highly competitive market are cited as the reasons the sector is reeling under losses.

Freight is the single highest cost at 50 per cent. Closer home, Ethiopia, which is giving Kenya's flowers stiff run, gives its growers all the necessary support - land, infrastructure, tax holidays and subsidised freight through Ethiopian Airlines.

These incentives make the Horn of Africa country's flowers enjoy cheaper prices, edging out Kenya's.

Many flower farms are no longer specialising in ornamentals but diversifying into other more profitable ventures such as housing, hospitality, herbs, fruits and vegetables.

The reason for diversification is pursuit for sustainability as earnings from a highly demanding business dwindle.

So, what is the future of Kenya's flower industry? Not certain, players say, unless there is deliberate focus on salvaging the sector.

Growers are hopeful though. They believe that their voices as articulated by the Kenya Flower Council with support of the new Agriculture Sector Network (Asnet), will be heard by the government.

Former KFC CEO Jane Ngige, the deputy chairperson of Asnet, having served the industry for 15 years understands what needs to be urgently done to salvage the flower sector.

With combined efforts of Asnet and KFC and a government that has pledged to support private sector, we hope to hear the best soon.

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