Behind the many flower varieties in the country that have adapted to local climatic conditions and fetching a fortune for growers is the dedication and resolve of a man who has invested time and money in crossbreeding varieties that match with the local weather.
Traditional many of the flower varieties grown in Kenya were being imported from Holland, Colombia or Israel. Most of these varieties could not withstand the local tropical climate and thereby performed poorly in the market.
This was not only a loss to the farmers as they had to invest more in chemicals and earn less, eventually losing out to the competition.
But the relocation of Bob Goedemans from Holland to Kenya six years ago gave the Kenyan flower industry a fresh impetus. Bob is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Preesman a flower breeding company in Kenya.
Through crossbreeding in laboratories, pollen grains of different rose flowers are ‘married’ to produce a new plant breed that has the combination of the qualities of the parent plants.
This way, Mr Goedemans has not only managed to give Kenyan flower growers a chance to cultivate what is favourable to their climate but also an opportunity to set their own identity in an increasingly competitive market.
Growers have the prerogative to grow the flowers that can withstand the weather conditions in their home area besides the breeds which are acceptable in their target markets.
Former Agriculture minister, Dr Sally Kosgei, who is also the owner of Sosian Flower Company in Eldoret is a frequent visitor of Njoro-based Preesman Limited and so are other firms like Oserian and Primarosa.
Mr Goedemans company is arguably the largest flower breeding centre in Kenya. Currently, it has over 50 tested and certified ready-to-be-grown flower varieties.
“All a grower needs to know is his farm’s altitude and other threats such as pests, and we will bring forth a breed that is resilient,” he said. Before the variety is availed to the market, he said, it will have undergone intensive research. “There is a team of botanists and agronomists who make sure that only the most suitable brand is brought to the clients,” he said.
Preesman Ltd produces over one million seeds a year and it is from this bulk that the ‘best fit’ varieties are selected. After an agreement has been reached between him and the farmer, he sells the new variety to the grower on condition that he will earn annual royalties from each of his breeds.
The royalties paid by the grower are dictated by a number of factors: “The market demand of that particular flower and the quantity ordered by the (would-be) buyer,” he says. He explained that the more the demand for that particular flower is in the market, the more royalty the buyer has to pay.
The flowers are given names, which Mr Goedemans says are patented. And in his four-acre farm in Nakuru County, there are flowers called ‘the Pirate’. But all what Mr Goedemans is doing is not new. The technology has been in existence in Kenya since the late ‘80s, albeit in small-scale. But it has become popular in Kenya because of the collaboration between the scientists behind the crossbreeding and the increasing number of large-scale flower farms.
Most Kenyans interested in flower business have embraced the technology and now have a lot of benefits to show.
Dr Sally Kosgei who is Preesman’s customer said that Kenya’s horticultural status rivals global giants like Colombia and Ecuador and therefore ‘it was about time the gap between the marketing and the science behind the flowers was bridged’.
“Normally, we are just interested in what the flowers will fetch according to the one marketing the flower breed, but actually, when a grower knows the science behind these flowers, he is able to choose what is fit for his farm”, she said.
“It is better than other breeders coming to pitch tent here temporarily and leaving sooner than our curiosity has been satisfied”, she added. Mr Daniel Moge, the managing director of Kimman Rosses in Elburgon says that Preesman Ltd is a big boost for the growers because it is closer and they can make numerous trips to the farms to acquaint themselves with the process.
“I am assured of having 90 per cent produce from the breeds I request from this company but I may only have 30 per cent had I ordered them from a faraway firm,” Mr Moge said. Dr Kosgei says that in the past, she and her colleagues had to make trips to Europe scouting for flower breeds. Other flower breeding companies in Kenya include Piet Schreurs, Deruiter, Lex and Stockman-Rozen in Naivasha.