Flower farms tap into lucrative carbon market

Kenya's flower companies are finalizing plans to set up a pooled carbon credit scheme that will see the industry counting all trees planted by each farm to form a “flower industry forest” and front the numbers as a single carbon sink. This, the flower industry says, will help them cash in on the lucrative carbon credit market, a system where industrialised nations invest in clean energy projects in poorer nations and, in return, get offset credits that can be used towards emissions goals or sold for profit.

“We are in the process of auditing existing clean energy schemes with a view to replicating these on all farms to collectively earn credits that would be ploughed into more activities, so that in the final analysis, the entire industry can lay claim to being a major player in climate change intervention measures,” said Flower Council chief executive officer Jane Ngige

Flower exports account for more than half of Kenya’s horticulture exports — the biggest source of foreign exchange last year for the country, ahead of tea and tourism. But both demand and prices have been on the fall, during the world recession and in the face of rising competition meaning that Kenya earned $40 million from flower exports last year, down 15 per cent from a year earlier.

Stephen Mutimba, the managing director of Camco, an energy consultancy firm that has been contracted by the flower industry to study the existing and untapped potential of producing and using clean energy, recommended the pooling of resources and supporting smaller farms to install solar panels. “The idea is to establish a revolving fund where farms can borrow money to set up clean energy initiatives,” he said.

With the programme, Kenya will also bolster its case that flowers produced in the country create less carbon that flwoers grown elsewhere, despite being airlifted to outside markets, said Mr Mutimba.

Four years ago, there was a major debate in Europe as claims gained currency that airlifting flowers and other horticultural produceresulted in a huge carbon footprint, with some activists clamouring for a boycott of air freighted produce.

This prompted a study that established that growing and flying fresh produce from Kenya produced less carbon than European grown products because of the high energy requirements needed to heat greenhouses and extend daylight in cold climates. In addition, Mr Mutimba said, the fresh produce is carried on passenger planes, so there is no increase in carbon per unit.

A World Bank study also recently recommended that flower farms pool together to form a grand carbon credit scheme and collaborate in various environmentally friendly activities such as planting more trees, and collecting and recycling water.

The Ministry of Environment is already working with two growers on a pilot scheme to convert farm waste into biogas, and if successful, the farms - Simbi Roses in Thika and PJ Dave in Kitengela - will be used as models to replicate the concept in others.

Flowers produce substantial waste, which if converted into biogas would save the country considerable hydro-electric units, said PJ Dave farm manager Peter Kiarie.

Currently, most of the flower waste is turned into compost, and in a few farm, such as Vegepro, is used to make liquid organic fertilizer.

But a number of flower farms have already installed clean energy projects, key among them Oserian Development Company that has established the world’s largest geothermal heated greenhouse. The farm generates 95 per cent of its energy requirements.

Another milestone is the giant solar energy plant run by Bilashaka Flowers—a first in the world. According to managing director, Joost Zuurbeir, two years after the multi-million project was launched, in 2006, the farm had recouped its investment and has since made substantial savings on the kerosene that was initially used to heat the greenhouses. “The result is a cleaner, healthier flower from a cleaner environment”, he said, adding that their flowers are rated premium in the market because they score so highly on environmental audits.

According to the World Bank study, flower growing zones have shrunk, because, ideally, flowers do well in temperatures ranging between 25-30 degrees Celsius. “Due to global warming, temperatures in most traditional zones are going above this range. In certain regions, boreholes have dried up, leading to increased spending on water and energy, making farms unsustainable,” the report said.

According to Camco, which carried out the World Bank study, countries with less harsh climates, such as Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia, could in future be more attractive than Kenya as flower producing regions.