Study on the possibility for a Horticulture Centre of Excellence

Kenya is the forerunner in East Africa in terms of horticultural production and export and historically the Netherlands has always been an important trade partner. To maintain and further grow this leading position in a sustainable way continuous improvement and innovation is needed.

The Kenyan horticulture sector is still characterised by low efficiency, a lack of knowledge and food security is still a major issue in Kenya.  While profit margins are decreasing (in the floricultural sector), consumer demands in terms of quality and sustainability are rising, production levels must increase to maintain food security.

Besides being a major export partner, the Dutch horticulture sector has been playing an increasingly important role in the development of the Kenyan horticulture sector. The international horticulture sector is a competitive sector in which margins can be tight. Therefore the Kenyan sector has to keep developing, making knowledge and a higher level of technology more interesting. Here the Dutch sector can play an important role by bringing in their experience with efficient and more sustainable production methods.

The central question is how the Dutch horticulture sector (including the knowledge sector) could further support and contribute in the growing of the horticultural sector in Kenya. The Dutch government, through the Agricultural office of the Netherlands Embassy, has been supporting many sector development related initiatives during the past decade. The establishment of a well-functioning Horticulture Centre of Excellence (HCoE), designed for the Kenyan context, could be instrumental in further supporting local sector development and should increase Dutch involvement and attract more foreign investors.


The purpose of this study was to identify if there is enough common ground to start the process of setting up an HCoE for horticulture in Kenya. Two objectives have been formulated for the study:

  1. The first objective was to investigate the interest of the Dutch and Kenyan horticulture sector to further develop cooperation and potentially realize this through a Horticultural Centre of Excellence.
  2. The second objective aimed at reviewing examples of centres of excellence in developing economies with Dutch involvement and research CoE initiatives and the views of the sector to come to an advice for the best suitable, financially sustainable business model(s) for an HCoE in Kenya.

    The study focused on the flower and vegetable sector, as the main horticulture subsectors that can be supported by the establishment of a Centre of Excellence.

What does the Sector think of a Centre of Excellence

From the HCoE review it became clear that the development of an HCoE requires a long time path, often of a period of 4 up to 7 years. [Read 'Lessons Learned' for more information]

The observed income generating activities for HCoE’s include training programs, consultancy, contract research, demonstration of technologies, local distributor and/or consolidator, sales of production, agribusiness incubator services, funding of start-ups and recruitment services. Sales of fresh produce appeared to be the largest income generator for the centres that shared more detailed financial information. [For more information read the part of the study on 'Financial model'.

All interview Dutch Companies were usually not very interested in general business support activities, but preferred cooperation in an HCoE for technology demonstration, training and networking activities. Sometimes with a specific focus on a subsector (flowers or vegetables) or theme within the sector (e.g. post-harvest handling, ICT solutions, production technology).

None of the interviewees is expected to be taking the lead in developing new HCoE iniatives, only follow-up to current or recently finished activities can be expected. Almost all interviewees will be interested to link up to an HCoE initiative in case the option arises and the initiative falls within their line of business.

Based on all the interviews an effort has been made to categorize the Dutch sector interests into a selected number of themes that have potential for follow up:

  • Sustainable flower value chain
  • Sustainable production technologies
  • Test centre for new technologies (SME)
  • Knowledge and information platform
  • Laboratory services/platform (MRL)

The survey of the Kenyan industry showed that there was a huge amount of technical innovation and training already available to the growers and producers. Technology is not confined to inputs from The Netherlands and this fact was commented on throughout the survey. The view of the interviewees was that if the HCoE would be purely Dutch sponsored it would limit the technical growth of Kenya and would also limit the centre being able to run profitably. [For more information read 'Sector Survey']

Main Outcomes

Based on the information collected in this study several topics could however be identified where Kenyan horticulture sector development needs and the interest of the Dutch sector can meet. A selection of recommendations was prepared as directions for follow-up activities that seem most beneficial for both the Kenyan and Dutch sector.  These include the following topics:

  1. Training of workforce
  2. Technical information for the industry
  3. Demonstration and testing of technology

The very strong need of the Kenyan sector for trained graduates, trained managers, and experienced qualified trainers on technical knowledge and skills could well be linked to (HCoE) initiatives that already have the support of The Netherlands.  Secondly, the development of a website or platform to collate every initiative and technical advancement that has a relation to the Dutch horticulture sector in one site (online or Virtual HCoE) could be interesting. Important is to first develop the full ‘business case’ for the online environment. Thirdly, from the survey it became clear that the Kenyan sector strongly feels that any HCoE where new technologies are being demonstrated and tested should be international. Also suppliers should best have a small role or limited decisive power in the centre. In this set-up the willingness of Dutch suppliers to invest in development of a new HCoE might be limited. However, some Dutch suppliers already work with Kenyan agents that also represent other nationalities. An international set-up should therefore not be ruled out.

More trials and demonstration projects involving new technology in combination with training could be set up, especially to support the vegetable sector. Such projects should best look into crop protection (MRL issues) and/or post-harvest handling. Technology demonstration activities could also be expanded through projects that give a follow-up on recently finished Dutch projects in order to realize a higher impact in the country. [for more info see: General outcomes].

For the summarized overview read the Executive summary.

Companies and organizations with interest to become involved in the development of activities based on the topics mentioned in this article or have questions are invited to send an email to Francis Hoogerwerf of Green Works Consultancy at and the Agricultural Counselor, Ingrid Korving at