By ANTHONY MUTAI
“Why do we grow flowers, sustainably? Kenya is gifted with the environment for flower growing. We are on the equator and we enjoy standard rainfall throughout the year, we also have adequate hours of light and dark which most flowers need.” Says Craig General Manager Kisima Floriculture. Nature has given an advantage of growing flowers in Kenya, flowers are grown more naturally than in Europe. In Kenya green houses are never heated like in Europe and carbon is never pumped into flowers. The green houses are designed to offer a conducive environment for the flowers.
Having started growing flowers in 1989, Craig had consultants from Israel and Holland. It offered an opportunity to learn. “The level of expertise in Kenya’s floriculture sector is unmatchable, Kenya has created a whole breed of professionals in the sector.” Adds Craig.
“Flower farms cannot survive without sustainability, it incorporates what we all do, sustainability is not a chore, it is what benefits the company. What we do in Kisima is a strategy.” Says Craig. Kisima forestry department, donates wood for schools, the trees help in enhancing biodiversity, they act as windbreaks. Kisima supports seven primary schools and two secondary schools in the vicinity, with infrastructure development, feeding programme and bursaries. The water conservation systems, carbon offset and responsible farming puts Kisima farm ahead of the pack. The farm also hosts wildlife from the nearby parks. There is free movement of wild animals.
The Kisima duka organizes two major field days for arable farming attended by over 1000 farmers. Kisima also employs the local people. Kisima farm ensures trees planted are best for the region. “The eco-system favours us and we give back to the community. I am a total believer in environmental sustainability.” says Craig. Kisima farm collects 100 % of its rain water. The strategy applied is thinking ahead of 5 years, in case of water shortage. Kisima recycles plastics, crops are grown in an ethical manner. Soil science is conducted by use of organic fertilisers , compost manure and ensuring the soils have good bacteria.
The farm uses molasses, bone meal and almond seeds to enrich their soil with nutrients as well as making worm juice which is used to further enrich the soil with good bacteria and nutrients. The farm also embraces use of Integrates Pest Management (IPM) which Craig says is more than just using insects to eat pests. IPM also covers other areas such as what time to harvest, using good nematodes for the soil and even how clean the plants.
“Sustainability is embraced by a team, use nature to grow nature,” adds Craig.
Craig says he challenges the carbon issue. At a time when the country had the fertilisers crisis Kisima farm coped with the crisis. the farm was able to survive the period by lowering the use of organic fertilizers to a level that would still sustain the flowers. Kisima farm changed the program on information and supplies. Craig credits his close relationship with the farms suppliers as having enabled him to be better prepared for the shortage by making adjustments in line with what was available. Due to this, no production was cut. He however said that had the crisis carried on longer that the farm could have lost production. He stresses that Kisima has planned its strategy based on the worst-case scenario.
Kisima farm has 450 employees from the community, who also include people with disabilities. They are committed to promoting gender equality among the employees. The farm rewards its employees based on the best performance. The farm also gives internship to university students which equips them with the knowledge of growing flowers.
Kisima farm was recognized for the best imported roses at the keukenhof awards with Rosa Hurricane as their leading variety. Judgement was based on the merits of head shape, opening of the head, colour, strength of the stem and vase life. Kisima farm also won the gold award from the National farmer’s competition scheme. Kisima bagged the gold award in the category of growers under 30 ha. The merits were based on the management of the farm such as on farming practices and sustainability.
Very few flower farms tap water from the rivers, most have their own lagoons or boreholes. “Our rivers need to be safeguarded by everyone, we are the guardians of this land.” Says Craig. He adds that the hectares of land to be cultivated are determined by the water available. Kisima farm has been having rainfall records going back to 50 years ago. Kisima harvests all its rain water from their greenhouses and its channeled to its lagoons. The farm boasts of 5 lagoons with lagoon 1 kept open and animals water from it. They also keep fish in the lagoons. Lagoon 2 is the main lagoon that is used to irrigate the flower farms and all lagoons have pipes and pumps connected to it. In case of a shortage water is pumped into the main lagoon.
Kisima recycles its water using the hydroponic system used in some of the green houses. Notably Kisima is one the few flower farms that do not rely on boreholes for their farm operations. The farm also uses the wetlands system to purify any waste water from the pack house.
When it comes to post harvest sustainability, Kisima uses solar power which supplies 70% of its post-harvest operations such as the cold storage for flowers that have been graded. For transport, the farm cuts down its use of fuel by using a freight company which extends its services to the other surrounding farms on a door to door basis. The farm has a contractual agreement with the freight company which minimizes cost and keeps the cold chain alive. The diversity of flowers grown is impeccable, the freight operations have grown. “Looking back in years where we used generators due to lack of power, lorries being towed by tractor and now, change has really happened,” asserts Craig.
Communication has also improved by checking and monitoring delivery of flowers to the market at the comfort of the house.
Pests and diseases
On pests and the rising worry over the False Coddling Moth, Craig says the farm has not been affected as it is not common in the Mt. Kenya region. “No responsible grower would rule out an FCM, there is need to educate your people about it.” Says Craig. Kisima farm has had 5 trainers on FCM ,2 external and 3 from Kephis. Kisima also sends one of its growers to get training in Naivasha and Holland. Craig acknowledges that FCM is a problem for the industry and there is need to fully understand it as a team.
“The only way to deal with thrip pests is to share information among growers.” Says Craig. Thrips are the only ‘dudus’ with 5 stages of development. Proactive sustainability such as traps, understanding thrips, venting precautions and application of biological means to fight thrips is evident in Kisima farm.