As coffee and tea disappoints farmers due to cut throat competition in the world market which has affected prices farmers get, more farmers are looking at new, and lucrative alternatives with flowers proving popular.
It is difficult to miss the greenhouses that line quite a stretch of the Embu-Kiritiri road, which is where Mugo Flower Farm is growing more than seven million flower stems.
When the three proprietors of the farm, brothers Njue Mugo, the managing director, Joe Kaviu, the resident director, and Eddie Mugo, the chairman learnt that Denmark was looking to link up with Kenyan farmers growing specific crops, they saw an opportunity to get into a new line of business, so they contacted the Danish government.
They started growing flowers three years ago under a partnership with the Royal Danish Agency, which built the farm’s greenhouses and water system, and provided the required machinery.
The three brothers, who are also the proprietors of the Izaak Walton Inn in Embu town, provided the land on which the farm stands.
Setting up the venture cost Sh150 million, which is way beyond the reach of millions of aspiring entrepreneurs, but Mr Njue advises investors to approach international partners for funding and linkages.
And last month, the brothers earned Sh7 million when they exported their first major consignment of 300,000 flowers to Denmark. They will sell the same quantity of flowers every two weeks to a Danish firm they partnered with.
Njue says they are the only growers of the slumbanger cactus species in Kenya, and in a bid to meet demand, they are introducing other local farmers to the crop. The species is patented by Rose Danica and matures in three months.
“The market is readily available in European countries for farmers who adhere to buyer standards. The demand for these flowers outstrips supply,” Njue said. He adds that the flowers are used mainly for home decoration, and because the variety stays fresh for only 30 days, they are in constant demand.
“Embu has the potential to produce flowers for the export market profitably. This, however, is a heavy investment and requires a lot of planning. Prospective flower farmers should write business plans that would excite partners and banks to get the initial capital.”
He says the heavy capital input is necessitated by the technology required to grow the flowers, since the greenhouses must be lit up for 24 hours and purified water sprayed on the crops in mist form.
The system also requires a water dam, filtration plant, computerised machinery to mix water and fertiliser in specific amounts, and a well-trained staff. Mugo Flower Farm has seven permanent employees and hires about 60 casuals a day, which Njue says is an indication of the potential flower farming has to create employment opportunities in Embu County.
“This is a sensitive business, and your staff can either steer it to success or lead to its downfall. We liken our relationship with our workers to a lifetime partnership, so we have invested in creating a good working environment.”
Njue said that an advantage for the Embu farm is that he and his brothers have no competitors, and do not have to worry about cross-pollination and contamination from other flower farms. Also, the distance between Embu and Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is 120km on mainly good roads, which facilitates the quick movement of flowers to the export market.
The Mugos attribute their success to their entrepreneurial drive and ability to spot opportunities.
Njue expects that after two years, more farmers will have taken up floriculture and Mugo Flower Farm will have expanded its cultivation area from 6,000 square metres to 20,000 square metres.