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Kenya enters high flower season with gloomy faces despite KQ direct flights

In what is shaping out to be one of the most devastating developments in the flower
industry that threatens to reverse the hard won gains of the sector, shortage of essential
fertilizers as a result of delays at the port of Mombasa has now reached alarming levels.
At the time of going to press, growers were reporting inability to access fertilizer, a key
agricultural input, as new measures introduced by the Kenya Bureau of Standards to tame
proliferation of counterfeits drag clearance at the port. This has spiraled out of control as
clearance that would traditionally take days to clear now goes for two months. Fertilizer
suppliers are paying a demurrage of up to KSh 2 million a day as a result, cost which they
are passing to the growers.

It is an occurrence coming months after the sensitive sector braved a protracted political
season that slowed activity, heavy rains that took a toll on yields and an unpredictable
international markets.

The latest delay has created jitters as industry players predict a dip in yields, slowdown
in operations and high cost of production. This will translate to loss of jobs while making
Kenyan flowers expensive in the overly competitive global market, eroding years of
hardwork that has seen Kenya capture more than 60 destinations. The loss of tax and
foreign earnings to government cannot be gainsaid.

The Kenya Flower Council has christened the ongoing delay as a precursor to a crisis of
monumental proportions with far reaching ramifications. To reiterate the voice of many
growers, while we appreciate the noble role the government is championing in ridding
the country off substandard and counterfeit products, it needs to put in place innovative
measures that ensure timely inspection, clearance and a seamless flow allowing growers
to concentrate on the core business of flower production without any hiccups.

In other news, the much hyped direct flights to USA scheduled to commence in October
have elicited excitement and anticipation in equal measure. The recent announcement by
the national carrier Kenya Airways that it would introduce cargo flights in December has
sparked debate on deepening trade ties between the two countries. But this enthusiasm
is not shared by the flower industry. The argument is, that these flights will terminate their
journey in JF Kennedy International Airport. There are no logistics in place to facilitate
movement of flowers to Miami, America’s flower hub. It would take up to 18 hours to truck
the flowers to Miami, which makes no business sense to flower exporters.

In the words of one exporter, the direct flights are not some magical opening up of a
new frontier market. Unless there are logistics already on the ground, then shipping costs
will make the US market prohibitively expensive.

The US market is a lucrative one with an annual retail sale of about $31.3 billion and
has expressed an appetite for Kenyan roses as evidenced by glowing tributes in past trade
shows. But Kenya is up against established giants like Columbia and Ecuador. To make
any mark, the government needs to rethink the cargo flights and routes as this is the only
way to get flowers to the buyers cheaply. Kenya’s competitor Ethiopia seems to have read
the cue and is seriously investing in requisite infrastructure and incentives including
working closely with the national airlines to fly directly to Miami and introduce frequent
flights. This is the direction Kenya should pursue.

It is quite unfortunate that we are entering a high flower season with such scenarios

By Catherine Riungu

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