Sustainably growing Kenya’s flower sector

Kenya recently hosted the International Floriculture Trade Expo (IFTEX) to showcase its thriving floriculture industry. With over two million people depending on the sector, Kenya exports over 200,000 tonnes of flowers annually, valued at $900 million. The country's favorable conditions, including fertile soils and ample sunlight, make it a strategic hub for exporting high-quality flowers to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Efforts are underway to promote sustainability, gender inclusion, and certification programs in the industry, ensuring a transparent and responsible supply chain for the future.

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Kenya's Blooming Floriculture Potential

Kenya recently hosted the tenth edition of the International Floriculture Trade Expo (IFTEX), with a focus on unlocking the country's potential in the floriculture industry. Richard Fernandes, Chairman of the Kenya Flower Council, highlighted the sector's importance by stating that over two million people in Kenya depend on it directly or indirectly. With around 5,000 hectares dedicated to flower cultivation, the industry exports over 200,000 tonnes of flowers annually, valued at $900 million, contributing 1.3% to the country's GDP. These numbers are expected to increase due to growing demand for high-quality flowers from Kenya.

In terms of geography, Kenya and Ethiopia are strategically positioned in East Africa, with the ideal altitude for flower production. Kenya serves as a gateway for exporting flowers to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, similar to Ecuador and Colombia's role in supplying flowers to North America. With favorable conditions such as fertile soils, ample sunlight year-round, sufficient water, a well-established support service sector, global distribution capabilities from Mombasa, and a willingness to adopt new innovations and technologies, the Kenyan floriculture industry is poised for success and growth.

It is on this growth backdrop, that as an industry working in harmony with nature, it is important to acknowledge and embrace the responsibility of utilizing, protecting, and nurturing the limited resources that the environment offers. This commitment is essential for the well-being of both present and future generations, and cannot be disregarded.

Sustainable Certifications Empowering Kenya's Flower Sector

The Kenya Flower Council (KFC) plays a vital role in promoting and maintaining the reputation of Kenya's flowers both locally and internationally. The development, implementation of certification programs such as Fairtrade, KS:1758, Kenya Flower Council's Flowers and Ornamental Sustainability Standard (F.O.S.S), also known as KFC Silver, and Rainforest Alliance, is essential for empowering customers and promoting sustainable floriculture. These programs require producer members to undergo annual audits and receive gold or silver certificates based on their adherence to sustainability principles aligned with the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative standards. This helps establish industry-wide benchmarks in areas such as good agricultural practices, environmental responsibility, and social compliance. These certifications serve as proof that Kenya's flower sector operates at a global standard, with KFC leading the way in implementing self-regulation practices within the industry.

During a side event at the expo, KFC organized a session for stakeholders to discuss Kenya's vision for a sustainable flower sector. The goal was to explore the current state of affairs, identify areas for improvement, and understand the potential impact on sustainability. The session focused on various aspects, including production, logistics, social indicators, and gender mainstreaming within the flower industry. At the production level, KFC conducts farm audits to assess factors like energy consumption, fertilizer usage, pest control methods, water efficiency, and waste management. This data helps KFC establish a national average and make informed decisions regarding adjustments and improvements. However, it's important to consider growers who are not KFC members and how their practices contribute to sustainability. Chris Kulei, a KFC Board Member and Director of Sian Flowers, highlights that modern consumers demand sustainably grown produce. By obtaining KFC certification, growers can connect with buyers who prioritize sustainable flowers. This, in turn, puts pressure on non-compliant buyers to comply, raising the profile of the Kenyan flower sector globally.

Sea Freight Boosts Kenya's Floral Sustainability

The introduction of the flowers by sea initiative in 2022 proved that it is possible to transport high-quality flowers from Kenya to Europe using sea freight. This method offers significant carrying capacity, resulting in cost savings and a reduced carbon footprint compared to air freight. To ensure long-term sustainability, investments in dedicated port logistic facilities for the floriculture and horticulture sectors will be necessary. However, Kenya has already made impressive progress towards achieving logistic sustainability.

According to the United Nations (2021), women have historically made up more than 40 percent of the agricultural workforce in rural communities worldwide. In Kenya, this trend continues with women comprising over 60 percent of the workforce in the flower sector. However, prior to the rise of unionism and certification schemes like Fairtrade, women in the flower sector faced significant inequalities. They were often paid low wages and subjected to unfavorable working conditions, which particularly affected young mothers who needed to take breaks to care for their children. Women Win, a women empowerment and rights organization is at the forefront of advocating for structures that support women at every level of the supplychain. According to Joan Nyaki ; Programmes Coordinator, Women Win- Strategies, despite the efforts made on gender mainstreaming in the flower sector, a lot still needs to be done to ensure holistic inclusion for women, while factoring the responsibilities they have from the family unit to work demands. As Joan Nyaki (Programmes Coordinator with Women Win) puts it aptly: "Women Win operates a development program under win-win strategies aimed at building bridges to advance girls and economic resilience of women, through impactful partnerships and holistic approaches. We envision cross sector partnerships between women rights organizations, local NGO’s, CSO, while partnering with flower farms to bring about social economic empowerment and development for women through leveraging on expertise of women rights organizations."

"By making provisions for women in the work place that make it just a little easier for them to strike a balance, this has been noted to have a positive impact on their well-being, performance and ultimately, that of their institutions. In our view, women are the pistil in the flower equation." - Joan Nyaki, Programmes Coordinator (Women Win)

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Kenya Leading the Way in Sustainable Floriculture

After the informative sustainability forum, Jeroen Oudheusden, the Executive Officer of Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI), a global organization within the flower industry, highlighted that Kenya is leading the way in implementing the best agricultural practices in floriculture. However, in order to fully benefit from sustainability initiatives in the future, more efforts are needed. The global market now demands transparency and traceability throughout the entire supply chain, as well as reduced pesticide use and carbon footprint. Certification has become essential for operating, and due diligence legislation is being enforced. Moving forward, sustainability in the flower sector will no longer be optional, but a trade requirement. The aim is to achieve a transparent and responsible supply chain by 2025. To accomplish this, stakeholders must collaborate and establish robust sector standards that are data driven, for active transition management.

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