A visit to Oserian grounds, the home of flowers for farmers and other stakeholders in Naivasha, proved a worthwhile assignment for me. Eager to learn more on the industry, I was not in the least disappointed. It was a nice day to be out of the office.
The drive to the town which has been associated with anti-alcoholism crusader, John Mututho, was interesting as I met up with journalists and other stakeholders in the industry and we shared in interesting conversations.Alexander Hamilton said, “He who stands for nothing will fall for anything. Naivasha is the land of roses and carnations, fish and hippos, egrets and hawks, lions and antelopes….
From the get-go of meeting Ms Jane Ngige, chief executive officer of Kenya Flower Council, I knew I would return to Nairobi changed. Jane is a petit woman with a wide smile and a welcoming heart. She is also a Leeds University graduate and well-versed with the flower industry. For the ordinary Kenyan, the flower industry is a saturation of white owners or settlers and a domain for the rich.
Talking to many of the representatives from various industries that came to the Annual General Meeting on June 28, I realised that this industry is capital intensive. And just like in real estate, a person with interest in the same can pump in cash and make profits. Jane is as passionate as her counterpart, Richard Fox, an Englishman keen on the industry and also chairman of the Kenya Flower Council.
Before my visit, it was easy to ask myself, “Why flowers?” First, I was surprised to see almost 50 or so attendees to an AGM which composed of African, Whites and Asian investors. One could observe these were a clique of colleagues and stakeholders from various walks of life doing a business they were passionate about – flowers!
A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions – so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect.- Adabella Radici. The shortness of a flower’s life is perhaps what causes such intrigue to the industry. It’s a luxurious commodity, yet so in need of care. Every part of the process from growing flowers to selling them in the country of for export is intricate.
Naivasha, I learnt, has over 100 flower farms…among them Lex Creators, Finlays, Schreurs Naivasha Limited and Oserian who had provided their grounds for the AGM. “Just like with other industries, flower farming suffers hiccups along the way,” says Jane. Economic problems hit the industry when the weather is unfavourable; yet even with the volume of flowers remaining the same for a season of time, flower farming is not for the faint-hearted.
“A profusion of pink roses bending ragged in the rain speaks to me of all gentleness and its enduring,” says William Carlos Williams in The Collected Later Poems. The industry has endured its ups and downs yet does best in Kenya during Mothers’ Days, Valentines’ Days and generally through occasions both happy and sad – weddings, church ceremonies as well as during the demise of loved ones.
Listening to the expectations of stakeholders which included Kenya Manufacturing Association, to Agrochemical companies, the farmers on the ground, creates for the synergy to run such an intense industry. We’re talking of getting flowers to the market after ensuring they are placed in fridges of the right temperatures.
They must be scheduled cargo flights to various parts of the world, and satisfying customer needs is indeed rigorous. The business of the day over, Jane took me other journalists on a tour to Lake Naivasha to show us how wonderfully the waters were overflowing to the vegetation. But not only that, she helped us understand how Lake Oloid’eng, a small salty lake, begun to cause the fresh Naivasha lake to become salty.
Not only is this an adversity to the flowers but also to the fish, which is the Fisheries Ministry jurisdiction. The water in this lake is used by most flower farms to grow their produce. It has four pumps which undergo purifying to ensure the water is user-friendly for the crop. The story of the lakes becoming amalgamated remains an amazing one to onlookers and would make for great information from scientists and ecologists alike.
But I have not begun to tell you what I most enjoyed and was fascinated by in Naivasha. A stretch of riparian reserve is one that abuts or is situated on the banks of a stream or other natural body of water. My fascination was with the beauty of nature there. Wow! Breathtaking is an understatement and I can only agree with William Shakespeare who said, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
The riparian land by Lake Naivasha has gazelles, dik diks, giraffes, zebra, pelicans and of course the famous flamingoes that will enthrall any visiting tourist. The acacia trees stand majestically in the water, but its only a matter of time before the come down with a thud, owing to the water. That is pitiful albeit inevitable.
BY ANNE MBOTELA