Without flowers, Valentine’s Day is never complete and without Kenya, it might as well be dead

Without flowers, Valentine’s Day is never complete and without Kenya, it might as well be dead.
  • If you were lucky enough to receive a bunch of fragrant roses this Valentine's Day, it's highly likely that they were sourced from Kenya.
  • Kenya is arguably the world’s flower garden and annually exports tonnes of freshly cut flowers to all corners of the world, more so to Europe.
  • The country's flower power is attributed to its sunny climate, which enables high-quality blossoms to be grown year-round without the need for expensive-to-run greenhouses.

Without flowers, Valentine’s Day is never complete and without Kenya, Valentine’s Day can as well be dead.

If you were lucky enough to receive a bunch of fragrant roses this Valentine's Day, it's highly likely that they were sourced from Kenya.

This is because Kenya is arguably the world’s flower garden and annually exports tonnes of freshly cut flowers to all corners of the world, more so to Europe.

Horticulture is one of the country’s top foreign exchange earners and its earnings grew by 33 per cent from Sh115 billion ($1.15 billion) in 2017 to hit Sh153 billion ($1.53 billion) in 2018, effectively becoming Kenya’s number three top foreign exchange earners.

The flower industry alone raked in a total of Sh113 billion ($1.13 billion) last year and as of September 2018, the country had exported a total of 133 437 metric tonnes of flowers.

"The flower industry overcame the challenge of fertiliser shortage to record good performance," said Kenya Flower Council (KFC) chief executive officer Clement Tulezi.

More than 500,000 people in the country depend on the trade according to the Kenya Flower Council, with roughly half of the country's 127 flower farms concentrated around Lake Naivasha, around 90 kilometres northwest of Nairobi.

Nearly two-thirds of exports are destined for Holland, where they are resold to florists through auctions which present a safe avenue into the market for less seasoned growers.

"If you sell through an auction and you have a good quality product, people will be competing for your flowers which will give you a better price," says John Kihia, technical director of Floralife Africa, a company which provides hydration, transport and storage for the cut-flower industry.

While Europe remains the biggest destination for Kenyan flowers due to its relative geographic proximity and good transport links, the country has started exploring other markets such as Australia, Canada and Japan to reduce its exposure to Europe’s market shakes such as the recent recession.

"It has had an impact on the sector and we have experienced a slowdown in demand, which slows down business," says Jane Ngige, CEO of the Kenyan Flower Council.

Kenyan exports also suffered when in October of last year the EU imposed import taxes on cut flowers from the country, but luckily the levy was lifted on Christmas Day allowing Kenyan producers to storm Valentine's Day sales.

There are many reasons why Kenyan flowers are such a hit, especially in Europe.

The country's flower power is attributed to its sunny climate, which enables high-quality blossoms to be grown year-round without the need for expensive-to-run greenhouses.

Kenya too has excellent transport links to Europe, and from there, the rest of the world through Nairobi airport, which has a terminal dedicated specially to the transport of flowers and vegetables.

"A direct flight to the destination is key owing to the fact that this is fresh produce and it needs to get to the end user quickly in order to guarantee quality. It also makes it less expensive," says Jane.

So good are Kenyan florists that they are now lending a hand to neighbouring Rwanda by partnering with the country's government to create a 35-hectare flower park 60 kilometres from Rwanda's capital Kigali.

It's hoped that the park will eventually produce three million stems per year and kick-start Rwanda's floriculture sector, which could pump more than $200 million into the country's economy by 2017.

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