An idea that started small and great to become a market giant
By WANJIRU MACHARIA
A group of directors from Bidco Africa realized a market gap in the Cut flower sectors and dared to venture in the uncharted waters of growing flowers in cold areas of Nakuru County where they have excelled in producing premium flowers.
Armed with experience in business in different sectors including agriculture, the group of directors cut a niche in growing premium flowers otherwise referred to as Gold Standard Roses for the higher segment in the market.
These are cut flowers with bigger heads of between 4.5centimetres diameter to 6centimeter and longer stems.
With the knowledge that the sizes of the flowers they desired to grow would need higher altitude, the group of investors sought land in the higher, colder areas of Nakuru with sufficient rains and a high water-table.
Managing Director, Ashesh Mishra says they were not deterred by the fact that flowers would take longer to mature in the high altitude and the higher cost implications because through their research and business strategy, they knew the returns would break even.
XFlora grows their flowers at between 2450metres above sea leave to above sea level 1950metres above level and takes the produce more than a month longer to mature compares to those in the lower lands of Naivasha which is Nakuru’s flower city.
The farm at the highest altitude is Sojamni at 2450m above sea level followed by Xpression Flora at 2150m above sea level where they grow the premium flowers. Africa Blooms and Blooms Valley which are at an altitude of 1950m also produce premium roses purely for export.
The topographical variation allows the growth of wide varieties of flowers including large head traditional roses, garden shaped roses and spray roses.
To ensure environmental sustainability and reduce their carbon print, XFlora Group have reserved large portions of land for tree plantations and natural forest covers which besides being wind breakers for their farms, they are home to a host of wild animals and different bird species.
Under XFlora, the group started with only what they now perceive as a small portion of 7hectares in Elburgon area and have since grown to 118hectares under more than 2000 varieties of rose flowers purely for export.
Mishra says they intend to increase acreage under plantation in the coming years although he could disclose the margin by which they planned to increase.
Narrating the successful yet challenging journey since 2007 when they ventured into the flower growing business, Mishra said they started off with a small farm house at Xpression Flora which along the Nakuru-Molo road, near Elburgon.
This farm has since expanded to cover 33hectares complete with a dam, offices, pack houses, and a well-balanced workforce in terms of gender and expertise. It has also borne three other farms.
Careful not to harm the environment on which the farm is dependent on, the management has more than 100 acres of Xpression Flora under Eucalyptus and another 70 acres under natural forest without forgetting tens of trees in between the free houses and the office compound.
Mishra says the tree cover is meant to create at microclimate, reduce carbon-footprint while at the same time hosting wild animals and birds.
Mishra said after successfully establishing Expression Flora, the management established Africa Blooms which sits on a 20hectare piece of land strategically along The Great North Road in Salgaa, Rongai Sub County.
“This was followed by Sojanmi Springfields which is our largest farm covering 45hectares and then the latest kid on the block, 20hectare Bloom Valley also in Salgaa which was established in 2015.
Mishra says that just like its initial farm, the group has ensured that all the other three farms have large forest patches. They also have systems of minimizing water waste, recycling irrigation water and rain water harvesting.
XFLora stands out from its peers in the highly competitive sector and has grown to be among the leading cut flower exporter due to its zeal to produce vast variety of roses some of which it patents for a short period.
The group also produces flowers lines specifically produced for specific markets such as Australia which is very strict on pest control. It is among the few Kenyan flower farmers allowed to export to Australia.
The group is trading its flower under Amor and Omang brand names derived from the journey and purpose setting up the flower farms.
Mishra says the trademark name was picked from the journey of establishing the firm and of course the expression of love and joy through flowers.
Amor means love and joy in some languages while Omang has different meanings which include enthusiasm, aggressiveness and bright.
Mishra says the group’s entire existence in the industry over the past 12 years has been a learning curve dotted with challenges, missteps, red-tape and overly major wins that have kept them at the top through the years.
“The first shipping was a great experience and we are glad that all our produce has been accepted in all the countries of destinations including America, Russia, Japan, Australia and many nations in the Europian Union,” he said.
The GM said they face stiff competition from within the country and conquered adding that there was no room for complacency because there were new products and challenges every day with producers fighting for the same clientele.
He said to strike a balance, XFlora was selling its flowers through both direct market and the auctions thus ensuring all the exports are bought. He added that banking on auctions was highly risky because of its unpredictability.
Due to its diligence to set national and international regulations, friendly working environment for its employees, use of expertise and research and commitment to producing the best quality cut flowers the group has won awards throughout at the International Floriculture Trade Expo (IFTEX) plus many others earned at different forums.
“We have a great team of expert agronomists with an addition of external assistance who ensure we have the best quality flowers and the best exhibitions which gets the annual awards,” adds Mishra.
To save on cost, reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and remain environmental friendly, the XFlora group ensures zero waste as it recycles most of its agricultural waste through vermi-composting.
“Cost of production is very high due to high prices of farm inputs and to mitigate this, the group has decided to recycle waste and use natural ways of pest control such as trappers and general hygiene,” he said.
Mishra said the group was in the process of setting up biogas plants in all the four farms using the farm waste. He added that plans to set up a solar power project were underway as a way of making its management sustainable and eco-friendly.
“The group also uses low volume transport cable cars to ferry flowers from the green houses to the park house instead of tractors to avoid damage to the produce. This mode of transport within the farm is also environmental friendly.
On employment, Mishra said they have more than 2,300 employees most of who are women at 65 per cent and men at 35 per cent. He said women work in the green houses as pluckers and within the pack house as men take up the strenuous jobs.
For Community Social Responsibility, the group provides high school, college and university bursary for children from needy families in their environs.
The group is also involved in the tree planting activities in the restoration of the neighbouring Mau Forest Complex besides organizing free medical camps for the locals.
“We buy food and goodies during the festivities and national holidays when we share meals with our employees and the neighbouring communities,” finalises Mishra.