The Kenya Flower Council chief executive officer, Jane Ngige, says the industry is looking at counting all trees planted by each farm to form a “flower industry forest” and front the numbers as a single carbon sink.
“We are in the process of auditing existing clean energy schemes with a view to replicate these in all farms to collectively earn credits that would be ploughed into more activities so that in the final analysis, the entire industry can lay claim to being a major player in climate change intervention measures,” she said.
The Ministry of Environment is already working with two growers on a pilot scheme to convert farm waste into biogas, and if successful, the firms- Simbi Roses in Thika and PJ Dave in Kitengela will be used as models to replicate the concept in others.
PJ Dave farm manager, Peter Kiarie, said flowers produce substantial waste which, if converted into biogas, would save the country considerable hydro electricity units.
Currently, most of the flower waste is composted and in a few farms, such as Vegepro, is being used to make liquid organic fertilizer.
A number have already installed clean energy projects key among them Oserian Development Company that has established the world’s largest geothermal heated greenhouse. The farm generates 95 per cent of its energy requirements.
Another milestone is the giant solar energy plant run by Bilashaka Flowers, the clearest indication that the country is yet to exploit clean energy. Managing director, Joost Zuurbeir, says that two years after the multi-million project was launched in 2006, the farm had recouped its investment and has since made substantial savings on the kerosene that was initially used to heat the greenhouses. “The result is a cleaner, healthier flower from a cleaner environment”, he said adding that their flowers are rated premium in the markets because they score highly on environmental audits.
Mr Stephene Mutimba, the managing director of Camco, an energy consultancy firm, that has been contracted by the flower industry to study the existing and untapped potential of producing and using clean energy recommends pooling of resources and supporting the smaller farms to install solar panels depending on size of farms and other possible initiatives. “The idea is to establish a revolving fund where farms can borrow money to set up clean energy initiatives,” he said.
If the programme, that is expected to kick off mid next year succeeds, Kenya will reaffirm the position that flowers produced in the country emit less carbon despite being airlifted to the markets.
Four years ago, there was a major debate in Europe as claims gained currency that transporting flowers and other horticultural produce amounted to huge carbon miles, with some activists clamouring for a boycott of air freighted produce.
This prompted a study which established that growing and flying fresh produce from the country produced far much less carbon than European grown products because of the high energy requirements there to heat greenhouses and extend day-light.
In addition, Mr Mutimba said, there are no special cargo planes that deliver fresh produce only but the stuff sits in the belly of passenger planes meaning there is no increase in carbon per unit.
A World Bank study that looks at the impact of climate change in the flower industry has established that growing zones have shrunk because ideally, they do well in temperatures ranging between 25-30 degrees Celsius. “Due to global warming, temperatures in most traditional zones are going above this range. In certain regions, boreholes have dried up leading to increased spending on water and energy making farms unsustainable”, the report says.
According to Camco that carried out the World Bank study countries with less harsh climates such as Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia could in future be more attractive than Kenya as flower producing regions.
The study recommends that flower farms pool together to form a grand carbon credit scheme and collaborate in various environmental-friendly activities such as planting more trees, collecting and recycling water.
Farms such as Kisima in Timau have shown that if all farms collected all the water captured by greenhouses when it rains, they can last a season and contribute massively to water saving efforts. Martin Dyer, the Kisima general manager recommends that the industry should have a policy that ensures all greenhouses collect both roof and storm water when it rains which would make a lot of difference in the water situation in the country.
Kisima and a neighbouring flower farm in the Nanyuki region Tambuzi have also joined in the clean energy efforts, with the latter developing solar lanterns for its staff while the former has set up a community biogas plant that is being used by villagers in Buuri district for cooking.
By Catherine Riungu