In 2002 Peter Murimi from Njabini in central Kenya completed a diploma in information technology (IT) and, like many young Kenyans, was determined to land an office job. He seemed destined to fulfil that ambition after a Dutch man he befriended offered him an IT technician position in his flower company.
However, a five month job stint there altered his life’s trajectory. Today Murimi is a successful flower farmer raking in millions of Kenyan shillings from exports to Europe. Having begun on half an acre of land, Murimi today grows four flower varieties on eight acres of land in Njabini. His foray into growing and exporting flowers also broke new frontiers in a domain traditionally the preserve of big flower producers.
At the flower company he learned the basics of flower farming and exporting, such as how to get an auction number and package flowers for export. He also began selling his own flowers and others sourced from farmers in the region to his boss. “I was a middleman. I sold to him at farm gate prices,” said Murimi.
From the IT job he earned around US$185 a month, but from selling 40,000 stems to his boss got him nearly $2,000. That was enough motivation for him to quit his job to concentrate full-time on flower farming.
In November 2009, he organised 86 flower farmers in the region to form Multigrow Farmers Group, which he chairs. Shortly after, the group began exporting flowers directly to the FloraHolland flower auction in the Netherlands.
To ensure the group remains competitive, they have had to learn to monitor the market demand closely. “It helps us avoid incurring losses from negative sales,” said Murimi. For instance Agapanthus, a drought tolerant variety, sells well between January and June, while the Eryngium variety is in demand in November and December. Craspedia is popular during the Easter festivities. Though flowers from the group are exported collectively, each farmer’s flowers are sold separately and fetch different prices.
A farmer is likely to get a higher price if his flowers are the right height and not damaged. An 80cm Agapanthus stem can fetch more than double at an auction than a 70cm stem.
Murimi has seen the benefits of selling flowers to the FloraHolland auction, rather than in the local market. When the demand is high and the market timing spot on, Murimi generates annual revenues of $25,000 from his eight acre piece of land. When he compares that to farming potatoes, which also do well in the region, he views flowers as a viable alternative. He estimates an acre giving 40 bags of potatoes in a year would earn him a maximum of $1,500, far less than what floriculture is bringing in.
The rewards from farming flowers are evident in Murimi’s standard of living. At 40-years-old, Murimi owns a Suzuki for his family and a pick-up truck to transport flowers. His stone house has a satellite dish and he also runs a cyber café, which doubles as the Multigrow office. “Many flower farmers here have better living standards than non-flower farmers,” he said.
Stakeholders in the flower industry are pitching in to ensure the success of Multigrow Farmers Group is replicated elsewhere in Kenya. The Kenya Flower Council (KFC) is training 200 other flower farmers on international trade compliance practices. “We also publicise their produce locally and internationally so that new market links are created,” said Jane M. Ngige, KFC’s chief executive.