Flowers by Sea - Kenya’s next frontier in diversifying global transport of perishable goods

Flowers are best received fresh from source and on time, be it for Valentine’s, Mothers or Father’s Day or any other occasion. Following the signing of the framework of cooperation between Kenya Flower Council and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands at the 2022 International Flower Exhibition (IFTEX) in Nairobi, the framework is expected to strengthen efforts in adoption of sea freight for perishables in Kenya to EU markets through the Netherlands.

IFTEX 2022 in collaboration with the Netherlands organized a conference dubbed “Flowers by Sea”, aimed at bringing together key stakeholders in the sub-sector to learn about sea freight dynamics and the current trends.

Why sea freight makes business sense

Most exporters of horticultural produce rely heavily on airfreight, which has become more expensive, accounting for almost 50% of horticulture export costs. Carbon foot print of air freight continues to grow with increased demand for produce. Sea freight is a great alternative and has been proven to reduce the carbon foot print by 85 to 95% and creates cost savings for the exporters, which translates to improved profit margins.

According to Mr. Jeroen van der Hulst, Managing Director of FlowerWatch, “the quality of flowers transported by sea is good, if not better, than those transported by air. Sea freight provides the flowers with the right cold storage solutions which address logistics, required temperature parameters, right nutrients for the flowers while on transit, and prioritizing clearance when being received in their destinations. These conditions are important in making freight by sea a preferred transport option.”

According to Dr. Esther Kimani, CEO of Pest Control & Products Board (PCPB), success of sea freight should start on-farm. “It doesn’t matter whether it is air or sea freight; with pests, the risk of losing produce is always high. Growers, breeder and all stakeholders must ensure that these pests and diseases are addressed.”

Kenya’s vision 2030 to increase sea Freight by 50%

Flowers by Sea conference participants

Globally, Ecuador and Columbia are in the lead in the uptake of sea freight for perishables by 15%. The Kenya Flower Council has set out a goal to increase sea freight uptake from Kenya from the current 5% to 50% by the year 2030. The mid-term goal is 35% uptake by 2025.

Clement Tulezi, CEO of Kenya Flower Council (KFC) noted that “15 years ago, sea freight was a tall tale. Fast forward to 2022, and it is now an idea whose time has come, especially in line with demand for sustainable businesses growing, and customers who are conscious about how sustainably the products they are buying were produced and delivered to them.”

Improving sea freight infrastructure

In the last 5 years, the Government of Kenya has been actively improving and expanding infrastructure networks, domestically and across East Africa, to improve trade flows regionally and internationally. According to Mr. Julius Segera, Director of Shipping & Maritime to the State Department of Transport: "The Port of Mombasa is a crucial landing point for goods, and links to the Northern Corridor that runs west across the country to the neighboring countries. Technological innovations are increasing possibilities for the export of fresh produce by sea.”

Mr. Segera furthermore highlighted that “the government is committed to ensure that policies are in place to facilitate trade for all supply chain actors. Some of these include having all clearing agencies under one roof by creating a one-stop boarder control center, not only for flowers but for all perishable goods. Digitization of the clearing processes by issuing an e-certificate reduces delays. The meter gauge rails connectivity has also improved and connects to the standard gauge rail which runs to Mombasa port. Plans to convert more wagons into cargo containers are underway. Kenya Railways is in the process of procuring 500 wagons, where 64 are earmarked for investors in sea freight.” The Government of Kenya has set aside land for cold chain investment at the Inland Container depot in Naivasha in Nairobi and Naivasha. This will provide reprieve for investors and shipping lines.

Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) is a critical success factor for sea freight to work. Mr. Paul Bor (Head of Conventional Cargo) noted that expansion of the Mombasa port and opening of Lamu port has readied Kenya and positioned it as the East African hub.  

What the future holds for Kenya & The Kingdom of The Netherlands

As Kenya positions itself for this new frontier, there is need for The Netherlands to provide infrastructure to handle the subsequent growth. Providing rotations to fast-track clearance of perishables will go a long way in proving viability of sea freight as a preferred option. On the other hand, continued cross learning opportunities that leverage on strengths from experts from the two countries will be instrumental in sustainably steering growth of sea freight. This can be reinforced through continued trade cooperation.

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