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April 02, 2008

Small scale Kenyan farmers find a niche in floriculture

Mr Isaac Njoroge, a farmer in Kandara Division in Murang’a South District, is among a group of 18 farmers who have formed a welfare group whose main activity is contract-farming of summer flowers.

The new programme—Kenya Horticultural Development Programme—funded by USAid, is benefiting small scale farmers in rural areas.

While Kenya is traditionally known for its roses, carnations and hyperium type of flowers, demand for bouquets in the domestic and foreign markets is growing, according to research done by the Kenya Horticulture Development Programme.

This is where the farmers who grow fillers for bouquets—commonly known as summer flowers— come in handy. Bouquets comprised 10 per cent of flower exports in 2006.

The farmers plant fillers, predominantly green foliage and a range of coloured flowers, that are less resource intensive and can grow in open fields. In 2005/06, the farmers of earned Sh250,000. This figure increased to Sh620,000 in 2006/07 and this year’s projection stands at about Sh1 million.

The initiative is part of a drive to improve flower farming among small- scale land owners.

Although earnings for small holder flower farmers are still dwarfed by what the large scale farmers bring into the country, the programme is benefiting many farmers.

In areas like Muranga South District, some farmers are able to make Sh10,000 every week from a 100 square meters of land.

Earnings depend on the type of flower a farmer grows and the size of the plot under cultivation.

In 2006, small holder farmers produced 2,600 tonnes of flowers which constituted three per cent of the total flower exports. This increased to 3,133 tonnes in 2007. The figure is set to go up this year.

At the farm gate, the farmer makes an average of Sh3 per stem of the flower.

One square meter of land can produce 200 stems. Production costs for one stem average Sh1.30. This means the farmer can make about Sh600 in a four-month season from one square meter of land.

The flowers take an average of three months to mature and can be harvested weekly for six months.

This kind of flower farming does not require a lot of investment apart from the land, water and the shade to protect the flowers from direct heat.

Since 2005 when the programme was started by USAid together with Kenya Agriculture Research Centre (KARI), earnings from the flowers have increased because of increase in the variety of flowers grown and training on better farming methods.

In 2005, the rejection rate at the factory level because of low quality was 70 per cent, but today it averages 20-30 per cent. Plans are under way to reduce this to 10 per cent.

Kari conducts research to determine the best variety of flowers based on the local climate and soil types and distributes seedlings to farmers. This is meant to ensure that farmers only grow seedlings that are improved and not vulnerable to disease to enable better yields.

After harvest, farmers take their flowers to Wilmar and Nature Growth Limited, a company located in Thika town. Flowers are sorted out in the factory and graded for export. Others are taken to export processing zones to make bouquets.

The company ships flowers five times a week, mainly to Amsterdam, thus ensuring that small-scale farmers are able to access the international market every weekday, said Mr Wilfred Kamami, the managing director of Wilmar. He says the prices for the summer type of flowers has grown as demand both in the local and international markets increase. This has created an opportunity for local farmers.

The small holder floriculture farming initiative has also lead to reduction of crime rates as the unemployed youth can earn a living from growing flowers. This kind of economic activity requires less capital so is suitable for the rural poor, both old and young.

For a farmer like Jane ,who is 70- years- old, the farming has meant that she is economically productive and independent at her age and does not have to rely on dependants.

The company currently works with 3,000 and has the capacity to work with four times that number of farmers.

Business Day Africa

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