Starting on the right footing

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The next big thing in Kenya’s flower industry could be in the offing in Nakuru. The town is the country’s third largest and if the industry new kid on the block – Xpressions Flora – is anything to go by, the world’s largest exporter of cut flowers is making headway in the big-headed roses market.
“Nakuru is an ideal place to grow flowers”, said Inder Nain, the man-aging director of Xpressions Flora a farm associated with one of the biggest names in East Africa’s manufacturing sector, Bidco Oil Refineries.
By coincidence, Xpressions Flora has taken root in the town where its mother started, which Mr Nain says is by default. “It took us about six months of going round the country looking for a suitable place to set up and luck brought us here,” he said of the farm located off Elburgon Road, in Njoro, Nakuru.
While the location is a good coincidence, the possibility that Xpressions is likely to fit into the success associated with Bidco is rather obvious, barring the occurrence of developments beyond human control.
The three-year-old farm, according to the Kenya Flower Council chairman Erastus Mureithi, is the only addition to the flower fraternity in the past three years, an indication that all might not be well in a sector that has previously grown at 20 per cent per annum over the past two decades.
The farm has made history by becoming the first to be certified within a year after applying for auditing, a feat KFC chief executive officer, Jane Ngige, attributes to get-ting started on the guidance of the industry Code of Practice.
“When they decided to go into
this business, they visited KFC and requested to be shown how to do it right from the onset,” she said.
This way, they have avoided having to dismantle certain systems so as to comply with the code requirements, she added, and urged
Following in Bidco’s legacy, Xpressions also deployed the Kaizen Management System, applied by firms to reduce time wast-age and improve efficiency, said Mr Nain, who exudes confidence saying that Kenya’s supremacy reignsFollowing in Bidco’s footsteps, Xpressions deployed the Kaizen Management System, applied by firms to reduce time wastage and improve efficiency
investors who wish to get in the business to follow Xpressions’ example.
Another farm that that was established with the code of practice as a guide is Aquila, that is growing flowers on Naivasha ‘s North Lake Road.
and is unlikely to be challenged, at least not in the next decade. He says he has travelled all over the world to borrow best practices, but he finally settled for what we have in Kenya.
“We have borrowed and continue to borrow best practices from the various world-class farms we have in Kenya and a mix of all that is producing another winning farm”, he said.
the farm has made history by becoming the first to be certified within a year after applying for auditing, a feat KFC chief executive officer, Jane Ngige, attributes to getting started on the guidance of the industry Code of Practice.

Mrs Ngige added that the flower industry has matured and is now concentrating on improving the value chain to sustain market dominance and diversify into new ones such as Japan, a fast growing frontier.
While the story of Xpressions so far reads rosy, the three years in which it has bloomed, have been baptism by fire, being arguably the most difficult period the horticultural industry in Kenya has faced.
At its weaning stage, violence broke out in Kenya after the December 2007 presidential elections that plunged the country into two months of the chaos. Nakuru being a cosmopolitan political hot-bed had its fair share of the trouble. “We saw smoke everywhere around the farm and feared for the worst”, Mr Nain said.
Fortunately, the farm was spared the wrath, a situation he attributes to its good relationship with surrounding communities where the bulk of its labour is sourced making the neighbours cultivate a sense of
ownership.
“As part of our community service we have employed people within a radius of 10 kilometres , with the aim of improving livelihoods in the surrounding areas. People are now living better since they have jobs and can afford to feed and educate their children,” he said.
After the post election violence
fires died out, Kenya entered into a prolonged drought that persisted until December last year. The effects of the drought, one of the worst in the country, was aggravated by the 2009 global financial crisis and an abnormal winter in Europe, which saw flower sales dip by 30 per cent, after enjoying a 20 per cent growth for 20 years.

“Due to the financial crisis and the extremely cold weather, people stayed indoors, ground logistics stalled, less flowers were sold,” said Mrs Ngige.
Towards the end of 2009, the global crisis began showing signs of easing and the rains came in tor¬rents. The sector started preparing for a bountiful Valentine, the industry’s best sales day that also heralds the climax of the high season which prevails until mid-year.
Soon after a successful Valentine, and predictions from the KFC that all indications were that 2010 would be a rosy one, the Icelandic volcanic eruption shut the European airspace and for close to three weeks, tonnes of flowers never reached the market, with estimates that the sector could have lost some Ksh10 billion.
Just days after the dust settled, and farms were busy composting destroyed flowers, clearing the stock in cold rooms and replenishing the markets that were starved of the Kenyan flowers, the Kenya Plantation Workers Union secretary general Francis Atwoli called for a strike accusing flower farms of failing to effect a collective bargaining agreement salary increment, and threw the sector into yet another crisis.
After the industrial court ruling, the organization and the farms were instructed to end the crisis, which was resolved without any worker downing tools.
in the next edition of Horticultural News, we look at how Xpressions Flora weathered the three year storm and why it is headed to becoming the next big name in the flower industry.

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