September 4, 2013. The number of small scale farmers embracing flower farming has steadily grown by over a hundred per cent in the last three years. Under the flagship of Wilmar Flowers, which exports summer flowers into the European and US markets, the number of farmers has grown from two thousand in 2011 to four thousand in 2013 and still counting.
And with climate changes adversely affecting Kenya’s traditional rivals Ecuador and Colombia in the flower sector, pushing up prices; more farmers are set to join the gravy train. Also, an initiative by the USAID funded Kenya Horticulture Competitive Project (KHCP) has been cited as another factor that aided in the rise of farmers taking to the sector.
Wilmar Flowers Executive Director Wilfred Kamami says input in value addition by the USAID funded Kenya Horticulture Competitive Project (KHCP) played a key role in educating farmers on best farming practices, an initiative that has seen members earnings steadily rise.
“The company used to sell six million stems in 2011. We are now at ten million stems aiming at 15 million, and we are geared to sell 20 Million stems in the coming year”, the director of Wilmar Agro limited Wilfred Kamami says.
Wilmar Flowers is a conglomerate of over three thousand farmers who are in groups of 25-30 members, on whose behalf it exports flowers. The Wilmar farmer of the year, Kamami says, earned a million shillings in the past year, but things have not always been as rosy.
“Farmers used to earn hundreds of shillings, but when USAID enables us to have agronomists showed them how, what and when to plant, their earnings shot up”. The agronomists were part of the programme that saw membership grow from 1,500 to three thousand farmers.
Wilmar Flowers is a success story on what farmers, with the right guidance, can achieve. The company, which has farmer-groups supplying flowers from Eastern, Central, Rift Valley and Nyanza provinces.
The partnership with USAID has made it possible for the farmers to have 25 Agronomists, three cluster managers and one production manager, who are charged with maintaining quality flowers are grown by the farmers, with agronomists being at the top of the process, overseeing production in the farms.
Input by USAID into the sector has helped the small scale farmers expand their farms from 70 metres to 200 metre farms. “Through USAID, FIniTRAC and the Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project (KHCP), the farmers were able increase the number of products they were growing”, Kamama adds. “Kilimo Biashara too helped in capacity building. Farmers now value their groups, having been helped visionalize where they are heading”.
“There is more market demands more of our products, and we have to expand to meet it”, says Kamami, who says the programme also helped visitation of markets and breeders in Holland. “USAID enabled us to visit the markets and breeders in Holland, and we were able to bring in new planting material such as Mursela, Goblin and Ornis.
Currently, Wilmar Flowers is looking to penetrate into the US market, and has an array of summer flowers for that particular market. “The Scabiosa, Rudbekia, Craspedia, Ernygium are some of the summer flowers that do well in the US market, alongside Saundersie, Ornis – Thyroisides and Ruscus”, expounds Kamami.
However, challenges for the farmers still exist. The flowers are grown in open fields, and without irrigation water for most farmers, rain patterns determine what farmer’s harvest. Kamami also points out at the high interest rates banks charge for loans, which are beyond many farmers, as another impediment toward growth.
“If farmers can be helped to harness surface runoff water and be able to enlarge their farms, increase in earning would follow”, he says, before touching on another sore issue “there is no flower development fund, despite flowers earning this country billions of shillings in foreign exchange. Whether one is growing tea or coffee, we are all farmers. Let us be treated the same” .
By Hortinews team