Kenya has set a deadline of end of 2015 to complete the implementation of a national mechanism of compliance for all players in the sector.
This coming at a time when customers in the key export markets like the European Union have become sensitive to adherence of flower growers to international standards like labour practices and environmental conservation. According to Kenya Flower Council (KFC) CEO Jane Ngige the move will help the Kenyan flowers to meet the stringent rules of the importing nations.
"All exporters of flowers should demonstrate compliance to international standards by the end of 2015," Ngige said. She said the Dutch government has provided $400,000 for the implementation the program. Kenyan flowers currently account for 40 percent of all European Union imports. The domestic industry comprises of 100 major flower farms and 3,000 small scale out growers.
She said that code of conduct is an industry initiative that will improve labor practices and environmental conservation efforts of the sector. "However, they are pragmatic standards that reflect the local conditions and will inject a high level of quality assurance of the product," she said. "Under the new regime, all flower growers will have to employ internal quality control auditors," Ngige said.
"The rules will apply to all flower growers whether they are members of KFC or not," she said. Ngige noted that the move will improve the profile of Kenyan flowers. She said that the industry is shifting to using bio-controls to eliminate pests and other flower diseases. "This will ensure the flower products comply with the maximum residue levels," KFC said.
The CEO said that the flower industry is a capital intensive sector whose sustainability is vulnerable to many external factors. "So, we will remain proactive to ensure that Kenyan flowers remains globally competitive," she said. KFC said that out of 120,000 tonnes of flowers exported annually only five percent of the produce is inspected by the destination countries. "This is a reduction from 100 percent in the 1990s," she said.
"However if non compliance to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measure are detected the inspections will rise," she said.
Government figures show that 65 percent of flowers exports are sold to Netherlands, while another 23 percent are absorbed by Britain. Kenya is currently trading with the EU under an interim Economic Partnership Agreement.
Ngige said that negotiations of a comprehensive trade pact are 97 percent complete. "We hope the talks will conclude before the 2014 deadline, so that Kenyan produce does not attract any import duty, unlike its key competitors in Latin America," she said.
The East African Community including Kenya is negotiating as a bloc with the EU. If no agreement is reached, then Kenyan goods exported to the EU will attract an import duty of between eight and 12 percent. She that all flower exports must be accompanied by a certificate of origin which is issued by the Kenya Revenue Authority.
"So we are urging the government to speed up the production of these forms so that exports can continue un-interrupted," she said. The KFC of East Africa's largest economy exports over 500 tonnes of flowers daily worth 1.7 million dollars. The industry also employs 90,000 Kenyans directly and another 500,000 indirectly.