Interview: The business of flowers in Kenya

Floriculture is one of Kenya’s top foreign exchange earners. Flower farmers however face numerous challenges that have affected the sector’s competitiveness. Jane Ngige, chief executive of the Kenya Flower Council, spoke to How we made it in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi about the industry’s potential, challenges and future prospects.

Jane Ngige

Exactly how many people in Kenya are currently involved in flower farming?

We have about 150 registered companies. Collectively they produce about 120,000 tonnes of flowers per year. There is however a huge number of out-growers. We know of one firm which has in excess of 2,500 small-scale farmers who grow field flowers. We support out-growers because they provide diversity. About 60% of our flowers are roses. The small-scale farmers grow other types of flowers that do not require capital intensive investments and the kind of technology corporate firms need. Small-scale farmers are also key in supplying the local market, which is a good avenue in branding Kenya as a flower growing country. People should be able to see the variety of flowers in the public space in the country. The flower industry employs 90,000 people directly and about 500,000 indirectly. Last year, the industry raked in KSh.45.6 billion (US$540 million).

Describe some of the challenges facing Kenya’s flower industry

Flower farming is a capital intensive business and there are labour issues. Right now our biggest challenge is tax refunds from government which creates cash flow problems for farmers. As a sector we are owed over KSh.2 billion ($24 million) in refunds. We have too many uncoordinated, duplicated and inconsistent taxes. We are also keeping an eye on the eurozone – we are hoping that they will continue to buy our flowers. As a cushion, we are diversifying into the Japanese market, Eastern European markets and the US.

Should flowers be a priority when Kenya is struggling with food security?

The flower industry does not stop Kenya from growing food. If anything, flowers are being grown in parts of the country where other food crops cannot grow. We are seeing more greenhouses growing food which has been motivated by the greenhouses growing flowers. There are cascading benefits from the floriculture industry, like the jobs for instance.

Why should foreign investors enter Kenya’s floriculture industry?

Kenya and Ethiopia are the two spots in Africa that lead in growing of roses. The infrastructure in Kenya has improved significantly, which should attract investors. The Kenyan technology, telecommunications, banking and services sectors are all endowed and support the flower industry. There is an anticipated 5% growth every year for the next five years in demand for flowers. All you need to grow flowers is the sun, water and technology. It’s a lucrative business. I want to believe that the firms that have been at it for over 20 years have been making money.