Flower firms jostle for limited cargo space in Kenya Airways


Workers at Equator Flowers Farm in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County pack flowers for export on March 16, 2020. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

Flower firms are competing for forward booking to get space guarantee for their produce on Kenya Airways as demand for roses in Europe soars in the wake of limited freight capacity.

There has been a high demand for flowers in Europe amid low capacity at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport as flights are yet to resume full operations after the disruptions occasioned by Covid-19 last year.

The national carrier says it will be increasing passenger flights to Europe ahead of Christmas, a move that will help in evacuating more cargo to Kenya’s leading export destination for horticulture.

The belly cargo in passenger flights accounts for up to 40 percent of the total freight that is transported by air.

“We have seen a lot of forward bookings by flower firms who want to be assured of getting space once their produce is ready for export. As a result, some of the producers, especially the small-scale players have missed out on space at KQ,” said the airline.

Flower firms are making forward bookings to get assurance of space by the time their crops are ready for the market to avoid inconveniences of missing out on freighters.

“With the Covid-19 disruption still with us, businesses are looking for guaranteed space to transport their cargo overseas, and that is why we are witnessing a number of forward bookings,” KQ said.

Last week, flower farmers said they were being forced to throw away a quarter of their produce due to a drop in airline traffic in the wake of restrictions imposed on rival carriers to protect Kenya Airways.

Kenya Flower Council (KFC), the lobby for large-scale flower farms, says they need freight capacity of at least 5,000 tonnes a week against the 3,500 tonnes available.

“On average our members are dumping flowers equivalent to 25 percent of their produce because of the limited cargo capacity,” said Clement Tulezi, chief executive of the Kenya Flower Council.

“It’s unfortunate that this is happening when we have increased orders from our major markets in Europe and elsewhere.”

Kenya Airways is at the moment operating two passenger flights to Amsterdam but it will be increasing frequencies on the route to three in December with daily flights to the UK.

There is a capacity constraint at JKIA currently after passenger flights cut on their normal frequencies last year on the back of Covid-19 that saw airlines ground their services.

Before Covid-19, JKIA had an oversupply of capacity that exceeded the available cargo for export to the world market.

The capacity is expected to increase in the coming days as carriers such as British Airways and KLM are set to ramp their frequencies on the Nairobi route.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) said no airline has at the moment made a request for an ad-hoc flight, which would allow them to fly directly from Nairobi to Europe without having to pass by their hub.

“Kenya promotes export of its products and we await requests for an additional cargo of which we shall consider charter requests as KCAA and scheduled service requests through Ministry of Transport,” said Gilbert Kibe, director general KCAA.

Kenya’s floriculture industry enjoys a relatively long high season, which runs from September through May, peaking in February as flower farmers maximise on the festive season, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Sanjeev Gadhia, the chief executive officer of Astral Aviation, said they are at the moment operating five flights a week to Europe with a plan to put an additional plane on the route starting January because of high demand.

“At the moment we are utilising our B747 doing five trips a week to Europe and in January we shall be deploying a B767 with additional frequencies on this route,” said Mr Gadhia.

He said they are waiting for approval from the European aviation regulator before they deploy the B767 on the EU route.

The demand for flowers has been occasioned by the December Christmas holidays and the New Year festivities.

The European Union still accounts for the largest portion of Kenyan horticultural exports, taking in 45 percent majorly comprising cut flowers, French beans, snow peas and Asian vegetables.

The leading export destinations are the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, the Middle East and the Far East.

Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) said there is a need for Kenya to diversify its market as reliance on the European market could have negative consequences in the event of a volatile market.

AFA says efforts to establish new destinations in non-traditional markets such as Russia, Asia and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa region have already begun.

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