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Kenyan flower sector booms despite fertiliser shortage

Flowers Kenya marketing manager Ann Gitari

Kenyan flower companies have managed to produce and meet the high demand for flowers in this peak season, the first quarter of the year, despite experiencing a fertilizer delay last year and a failure of the government to subsidize the product this year.

The government last week said that due to procurement errors from the contracted firms it will not import fertilizer; therefore, farmers had to buy fertilizer from the open market. This will, in turn, lead to a rise in the product rising to Sh3000 for a 50kg bag compared to Sh1200 for the same quantity.

“The National Cereals Produce Board typically helps to uphold lower fertilizer through the supply of the subsidised fertilizer but now that there will be no importation, the prices are likely to skyrocket during the planting season,”  said Kipkorir Menjo, the director of the Kenya Farmers Association in a press conference in Eldoret.

While last year, delays by the Kenya Bureau of Standards to release 1.6m tonnes of fertilizer, which were stuck at the Mombasa Port, 750,000 metric tonnes at the Elgon Kenya warehouse while 880,000 tonnes at a warehouse in Yala, as they were awaiting inspection were expected to delay production.

However, flower companies have managed to pull through by increasing their fertiliser volumes purchased three folds last quarter in case the shortage endured so that they can meet the peak demand in the first quarter of this year.

According to the Kenya Flower Council (KFC), despite challenges arising from fertiliser, the sector recorded good performance in 2018. Flower exports contributed Sh113.16bn up from Sh82.24 earned in 2017, representing 37.8 percent growth.

Fruits and vegetables earned Sh12.83bn and Sh27.68bn in 2018, up from nine billion shillings and Sh24.06bn earned in 2017, respectively.

The cut-flower export still remains the largest earner, contributing 74 percent of the total fresh produce annual earnings, fruits at 8 percent and vegetables at 18 percent.

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Additionally, companies such as Primarosa Flowers Limited have reported an increase in production in 2018 and expect to continue rising this year despite the challenges. 

“Whilst this year’s market was extremely challenging owing to fertilizer issues at the port, production still managed to increase by 20 per cent in comparison to 2017. Having year-round customers in our portfolio always facilitate good business. During the off-peak season we export close to 8 million roses a month around the globe mainly to Continental Europe,” said Bobby Kamani, Managing Director, Primarosa Flowers Limited.

Primarosa flowers limited deals in the production of a variety of roses such as Furiosa, Oriole, Glow, Andalusia and Athena among other roses. The rose is one the most popular flower on Valentine’s Day and given that Kenya is the biggest exporter of flowers to Europe, the demand was expected to be high.

“We generally deal in freight on board (FOB) basis, which enables us to deliver the roses at the airport and freight is taken care of by the client. This season we have had to increase the number of flights on which our roses are transported due to the high demand. We export our products globally with Continental Europe being at the forefront, closely followed by the Asia Pacific. Mainland China seems to have a growing demand for flowers from Kenya,” said Kamani. 

For Oserian flower farm, the company has adopted a champion by nature approach to flower growing. The company utilizes the integrated pest management system and hydroponics to reduce water as well as fertilizer consumption hence still meeting demand despite fertilizer delay or price hike.

Key to its strategy is identifying roses that benefit from its 50 hectares of geothermally heated greenhouses in order to meet the flowers’ production which is dominant at the farm. In the greenhouses, it has geothermal heating that conserves temperature and for injecting vast amounts of carbon dioxide needed to stimulate healthy, strong plant growth.

“In an increasingly competitive and dynamic market our cut flowers have excited markets and positioned us as frontrunners in sustainable flower production,” said Oserian Flower Farm.

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