Family, staff, friends and relatives gathered at the Oserian Stadium in Naivasha on December 20, 2016 to celebrate the life of the pioneer of the Kenya flower industry Johannes Ewaldus Maria Zwager popularly known as Hans Zwager who has passed on at the age of 90.
Hans Zwager founded leading flower export farm, Oserian Development Company in the early 80s marking the beginning of a business which would drive an industry to grow into one of the top export earners for Kenya – a key employer and driver of a major social-economic transformation in the region. An estimated two million people depend on the flower industry today through direct and indirect employment at both the farm and across the value chain.
To celebrate the legacy left behind by Hans Zwager, an afternoon and evening of entertainment was organized by the Oserian family to give their hero a befitting send off, said Kirimi Mpungu, the firm’s director of administration.
Speaking at the event, a former worker and sitting Narok East MP, Lemaken Aramat, said Oserian gave him the foundation he needed to be a lawmaker. The legislator served as the farm’s Maasai Community Liason Officer, a position that enabled him to create useful grassroots connection with people who voted him to Parliament in 2013.
Peter Zwager, Chairman and son of the late Hans Zwager said his father sowed the seeds of the flower industry from bare lands near Lake Naivasha to grow the beautiful flowers we are proud of today.
The workers’ children were entertained in the morning with bouncing castles and children’s comedy to usher in an afternoon of songs by choirs and bands which culminated in the final salute to Mzee with a magnificent display of fireworks – this was a fitting celebration by the Oserian community of the life of a man whose vision has truly touched the lives of hundreds of thousands Kenyans and probably millions of others around the globe.
Hans was born in the Netherlands in 1926 but arrived in Kenya to start up ABN bank in Nairobi in the early 1950s. Here he met June Patricia Ashworth and after a short whirlwind romance, they married.
Hans and June started their own business of importing agricultural spare parts and chemicals for agricultural crops. Hans recognized that newly independent Kenya had a huge agricultural potential and would need support services, so he set up Kleenway Chemicals in Nairobi and Antipest Ltd in Mombasa in the 1960s.
Hans purchased Oserian Farm in 1969, which was a cattle ranch with 16 employees. Using his enterprise and his appetite for risk, Hans established a new concept – flowers for export. Later his pioneering work led him to develop Geothermal Energy at Oserian, which now provides electric power to the entire farm and uses geothermal heat to control diseases in the rose houses, which has greatly reduced the need for chemical fungicides.
In 1978 he built a factory that produced the first locally manufactured knapsack sprayers in Kenya. The Dutch designed Hobra Sprayers were enthusiastically welcomed by small-scale farmers as spare parts and repairs were now always locally available.
Hans was one of the leading entrepreneurial pioneers in Kenyan horticulture and Oserian soon became the model for flower export to the Dutch and EU markets. Hans started up the TFA (Tele Flower Auction) in the Netherlands, the first electronic flower auction in the world, designed to promote and support the Kenyan flower exporters. He also saw the opportunity to trade flowers directly to the UK supermarkets and established World Flowers in 1989, allowing Kenyan farmers to trade directly with the European High Street superstores.
As Oserian expanded and thrived, he encouraged the development of a social complex, which included housing for 6000 employees and their families. Today Oserian is one of the most socially conscious businesses in the Country with crèches, primary and secondary schools and health care for thousands of children and adults.
Hans was committed not only to business but had long sought for a sustainable harmony between agriculture and the environment. In 1995 he created a 18,000 acre sanctuary to protect the local wildlife and ecosystem. Today, Oserian Farm and its green houses are surrounded by wildlife, which Hans saw as a fitting tribute to the beauty of Kenya.
His zeal and dedication to the Kenya horticulture industry would not go unnoticed. In 1998, the former President of Kenya, the Honourable Daniel Arap Moi, presented Hans Zwager Kenya’s Medal of Honour, the ‘Moran of the Burning Spear’in recognition for his role in directly developing what had by then become a corner stone of the Kenyan economy.
Hans was also presented with The Order of Orange-Nassau by His Royal Highness King William Alexander of the Netherlands for his services to society. The medal, a Military and Civil Order of Chivalry, was founded in 1892 by the Queen Regent Emma of Netherlands. Then Ambassador for the Netherlands, Mr Joost Reintjes presented the medal at a prestigious ceremony hosted at the Royal Netherlands Residency in Nairobi.