Markets: Glad you asked, we grow onyx but …

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To Nature Grown, the benefits of working directly with farmers by helping them to market their produce without going through middlemen has apart from ensuring constant and regular supply of produce -led the firm to increase its horticultural export volumes and capacity, which currently stands at 9 million stems per year.

However, even with the successes so far registered since the inception of the Nature Grown, KHDP partnership in 2008, the main challenge of sourcing flowers from out grower farmers, according to Ms Mburu, has been how to ensure that quality of ex¬ports is uniform and ideal for the EU export market as the stocks are normally supplied by different flower farmers.

“We are always forced to grade the flowers, something that sometimes forces us to throw away some stems and in the process having to deal with com¬plaints from the farmers. But this is the best way by which we can ensure that we export the quality required,” she says.

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The need to ensure uniform quality of the flower stocks sup¬plied to Nature Grown by the smallholder farmers has led the firm to employee about eight agronomists who work directly with the farmers on the ground to ensure the required quality is achieved and delivered to the firm.

Mr Wilfred Kimami, who has over the past seven years worked with his team to ensure the success of Nature Grown as well as the continuity of the firm’s partnership with KHDP since 2008, says that the he has seen his flower export capacity increase from just

1.2 million stems five years ago to 17 million stems currently.

“This year, we are aiming at exporting over 20 million stems

due to the fact that we have introduced new product offerings which are targeted at the premium segment of the EU market,” says Kimami, however adding that the only major challenge of working with the smallholder farmers is that they have limitations when it comes to growing prime products.

The EU market’s segmentation combined with the fact that small-scale framers can not grow prime products is one of the reasons that led Mr Kimami to establish Nature Grown whose products are used to access relatively more flower auctions in Germany and Holland.

The EU is the main export des-tination for Kenya’s flowers, with the Netherlands (Holland) importing the bulk of flowers for sale through the country’s auction system.

John Kagia, a Nature Grown agronomist, makes a demonstration at an onyx flower farm in lari division, a few kilometres from Nairobi.

 

“The main reason behind the formation of Nature Grown was the need to put the common man growing flowers on the international market. We mainly focus on flower growers who have to cope with various challenges be¬fore they access the international market with their produce,” says Mr Kimami.

The flower export sub-sector is controlled by mainly private entities, including both large and small-scale farmers and exporters operating scattered across the nation.

Among the factors that have contributed to Kenya’s rise in flower exports is the country’s Equatorial climate which allows for year-round production; fertile soils; a competitive labour force with good education and technical background.

Ms Nancy Njeri Chege is a flow

er grower who through getting involved in the Nature Grown, KHDP partnership has seen her household incomes improve since she started growing the ‘Onyx’ flowers while supplying the produce to Nature Grown in 2007.

Ms Njeri, who previously grew only carrots, cabbages, potatoes and maize in her half-acre plot, was driven to get into flower production due to the instability and price fluctuations that is known to affect other crops, leading to unreliable incomes to the farmers.

Onyx is an all-season flower which takes six months to mature, after which the stems are harvested then tied in batches of 10 stems each for onward collection by Nature Grown.

The stems are then graded according to stem length, with the longer stems fetching comparatively higher prices than the shorter stems.

“Harvesting can be done every week for older crop and the plants can stay up to four years before new planting materials are introduced. This means that production costs during subsequent sea¬sons after the first harvest are significantly reduced as no planting material is bought and the only expenses are on fertilizer costs and labour,” says Ms Njeri, who doubles up as the treasurer of 10¬member Kereita farmers group in Kirenga location, Lari District.
Being a consistent and promising member of the project, Njeri’s farm has a shade net and is also used as drip irrigation demonstration plot, the construction of which has been done by KHDP.
However, the challenge in
growing the ‘Onyx’ variety, says Njeri, is the fact that the crop is labour intensive, especially during post harvest as farmers have to engage between 5 to 6 people in the removal of the flower’s tip buds to ensure the plant matures to the desired quality while additional labour is required for irrigation during the dry season.
To mitigate against the higher costs, says John Kagia, a Nature Grown agronomist, some farmers are now growing other flower varieties (like Erygnium) though Onyx still fetches better prices.
“Erygnium is affected by sea-sons and is therefore not popular in the EU market during the off-peak season, which is normally between June and September,” says Kagia.
One of the farmers growing the Erygnium variety is Mr Peter Kimani, a flower farmer from Gitemenge group in the same location, who has put his eight-acre piece of land on the crop but complains that growing the flower is challenging due the high cost of inputs – like pesticides and labour.
inter-cropping
Paul Wathiru Nyururu, also a flower farmer from the same area, has however decided to go a different route and intercrops three flower varieties on his eight-acre piece of land, including Onyx, Erygnium and Lilies (for the local market).
His farm has also been fitted with a shade net which induces
stems to grow taller as they search for the sun’s elusive rays.The shade net, also used a demonstration for others in the KHDP project, also ensures that temperatures inside are cooler than leading to better harvests and incomes.
“Previously, people did not see the potential in growing flowers but due to the inspiration from this project and my farm, they are now keen on getting involved in the trade,” says Mr Nyururu, but warns that flower growing is a labour-intensive endeavour, requires lots of dedication and therefore the need to start small.
“We work here three of us every day, pruning the flowers and also removing suckers which compete with good flowers for food and if left lead to slim stems and short flower.

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