Smallholder farmers in the country have now delved into flower farming, traditionally a preserve of big companies, with the easier to grow summer variety being their favourite, and now more than tripling their yields compared to traditional crops like maize.
The flowers are grown in an open field under a shade that can be made of nets or polythene bags, unlike a greenhouse, which calls for total closure, which makes them a favourite among the farmers.
Summer flowers can be mixed with other flowers to make a bouquet. Wilmar Agro Ltd, a flower exporting firm based in Thika, has been working with the farmers by supplying them with seeds, free training, marketing and transport. So far it has contracted over 4,000 farmers across Central, Rift Valley, Western and Eastern provinces.
The farmers are divided into 160 groups with each group having an agronomist to guide them from planting through to harvesting, enabling the farm to export high quality flowers and fetch higher revenues. The flower stems are measured in heights of between 35 and 70 centimetres while gate prices have risen to between Sh3 and Sh from between Sh1.50 and Sh2 an average in the past one year.
The longer the stem, the better the price. The flowers can be harvested for two years concurrently before opening a new field. Onis one of the varieties of the summer flower, for example, and among the popular ones by farmers is harvested once a week for two years, and then takes between four and six months dormancy. Wilmar Agro says it exports summer flowers to Holland, the global market leader, from where the flowers are redistributed to the other markets. It exports 13 million stems a year and hopes to increase the volume to 20 million a year in the next two years. The company retains only 20 per cent of the Sh150million in revenues it earns annually.
Samuel Machora, 55, is one of the farmers who have embraced small scale flower farming in Kenya’s Central Province.
Mr Machora has been farming since he left secondary school 27 years ago. However, his flower ‘farm,’ which occupies only an eighth of an acre on his six-acre plot in Gatanga, turns out to be his major source of revenue, beating the four acres of tea and a vegetable and a fruit venture he tried before.
The flowers earn him from Sh4,000 a month during the low season to as much as Sh40,000 during the peak seasons. He spends approximately Sh5,000 for maintenance of the flowers and he gets seeds from his own farm. He said the months of July and August are low season because of the summer in Europe, during which countries there produce their own flowers as the climate is favourable.
Although there is no official data on how many smallholder farmers have delved into the flower business, experts now say that these smallholder farmers could now champion the next flower revolution. Africa is now quickly overtaking traditionally flower producing countries like Columbia and Ecuador due to escalating production costs, high energy costs required to heat greenhouses and rising impacts of climate change.
“South America is reducing the area under production due to increasing land prices and development of real estate and Kenya is expected to fill the gap,” added Jane Ngige, KFC chief executive officer. Approximately 65 per cent of exported flowers are sold through Dutch auctions, although direct sales are growing.
The increasing importance of Africa, and particularly Kenya in the lucrative global flower trade has seen Kenya being the preferred host to the prestigious International Floricultural Trade Expo for two years in a row, an exhibition that brings together buyers from across the world to meet with flower growers and breeders and experience first hand how flowers are produced. The buyers have now bypassed traditional flower auctions.
Kenya's floricultural sector has grown annually by 15 per cent in value and volumes, defying political and weather uncertainties while providing employment to an estimated 500,000 people including over 90,000 flower farm employees. The sector is growing faster than the 10 per cent growth envisaged under Vision 2030. Experts project that the sector could grow at 20 per cent by 2030.