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Why Kenya’s flowers only soothe hearts in Europe

The growing demand for flowers from Kenya’s
The growing demand for flowers from Kenya’s middle class is slowly creating a booming business for cut flowers. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A quick spot check conducted by the Business Daily indicates a 0.05 chance that Kenyan workers will send flowers to their parents for Mother’s Day. That translates to only one in every 20 workers planning to buy flowers for parents for the day to be celebrated on Sunday. The rest will either send cash, do shopping or ignore the occasion altogether.

Flowers, which Kenya produces in abundance, are used in other cultures to convey the love and affection befitting Mother’s Day, a solemn time to appreciate the unique bond between mothers and their children.

Just like the soil hardly appreciates the gems that it harbours, so too, most Kenyan mothers attach no special meaning to flowers that generate hard currency running into billions of shillings from abroad.

“Kenya flowers are sold in more than 60 countries,” says Clement Tulezi, chief executive of the Kenya Flower Council (KFC).

“The number of local flower buyers has grown due to increased interaction with other cultures and expansion of the middle class but the volume is still insignificant compared to our exports.”

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Official data indicates that earnings from Kenya’s flower exports hit Sh113.2 billion last year, up from Sh82.2 billion the previous year.

“We had a 38 percent growth last year but depressed rains point to something modest for this year, like say 10 percent,” he told the Business Daily.

MOTHER’S DAY FLOWER

The industry is at its peak season again and tonnes of flowers have been flown again to Dutch auctions and other outlets since the year began.

The industry’s exports tend to peak ahead of the Valentine’s Day, which is celebrated on February 14, and Mother’s Day in May.

Popular Mother’s Day flower varieties include roses, carnations, lilies, and daisies which are all grown in Kenya.

Official data shows Kenya is today the lead exporter of roses to the European Union, where it currently commands a market share of about 38 percent. The performance has defied barriers such as “carbon miles debate” that frequently crop up in Europe to target countries that ferry their fresh produce over long distances using air polluters like aeroplanes.

At home, however, cut flowers are yet to find a local market, although the country started producing in the early 1980s.

The sub-sector has since employed 100,000 workers while supporting two million others indirectly according to KFC.

The industry is blaming City Hall for thwarting its every attempt to sell in the local market.

“There is no single designated sale point for flowers in Nairobi,” says Mr Tulezi.

“While the previous Nairobi County administration used to allow vendors to sell on the streets during Valentine’s and Mother’s Day, and even promised us 18 stalls in Westlands, the current regime has been very hostile to flower sellers.”

With their short shelf life, says Mr Tulezi, most of the flowers being offered for sale under direct elements such as weather must either be bought on the day of delivery or be disposed of as waste by the second day. But there is a bright light at the end of tunnel.

The growing demand for flowers from Kenya’s middle class is slowly creating a booming business for cut flowers.

For a price of between Sh3,000 and Sh13,500, for instance, Fusion Florist, an online shopping site, promises to deliver a Mother’s Day bouquet of carefully selected pink and white roses.

The delivery, the flower shopping firm adds on its website, is to be made to any location in Nairobi within hours of placing the order.

Similarly, at Nairobi’s City Market, flower vendors are equally upbeat, saying that they expect a roaring business between Friday and Sunday as “people shop ahead of Mother’s Day on Sunday.”

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