Preserved flowers and foliage is a relatively unknown industry in Kenya, largely because most of its end product markets are concentrated in Europe, the former Soviet republics, Japan and North America.
But 50 smallhold farmers in Eldoret, Meru and Naivasha are now earning an income by selling leaves to a local Export Processing Zone (EPZ) Company, Vermont Design (VD) that turns the raw foliage into decorative masterpieces for overseas markets.
Vermont Designs has organised the 50 farmers to deliver them daily supplies of the raw leaves, for which they get paid Sh60 to Sh200 a kilogram, depending on the ease in sourcing them and their rarity, according to Vermont Design Production Designer Alex Kariuki.
The natural sculpture company, which transforms the leaves into dramatic pillars, huge balls, lamp shades, candle stands and even chandeliers, also buys flowers for drying, principally roses, and is always open to new suppliers and materials. “Farmers can come and make presentations or suggestions,” said Kariuki. Tests are then run on these foliages and flowers to see how they come out, when dried, tried and sometimes coloured.
However, the main driver of the company’s buying is the demand from overseas customers. “We take any plant that fits our customers’ designs. The market may move us towards certain foliages,” he said.
Currently, roses, fuschias, hydrangeas and bougainvillea are some of the flowers Vermont Design sources from farmers for its ornamental bouquet designs, while the main foliages used for the dried leaf sculptures worldwide are eucalyptus, ferns, ruscus, German statice and bay leaves. These adorn over 200 designs at VD, which are redesigned and relaunched as new ranges every year.
Monthly, VD makes around 5000kg by weight of foliage designs and uses 300,000 flowered heads. The ornamental arrangements are treated with alcohol and other preserving chemicals and have a shelf life of 5 years, said Kariuki.
They are costlier than the normal flower bouquets. “Here people prefer fresh flowers,” said Kariuki, as they are readily available. But over 70 per cent of output in the EPZ zone must, by definition, be for export.
For more details on Vermont Design visit www.vermont-design.com
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
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