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August 22, 2009

Kenyan flower exports suffer

by Michael Karanja

Drought and slow economic growth have negatively affected Kenya's horticultural sector, which has reported a 30 percent decline in half year sales.

Chief Executive of the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya Dr Stephen Mbithi said that the flower sector was the major casualty owing to reduced demand from major markets, especially in Europe. “We had a difficult Valentines Day - that’s the period when we sell most of our flowers - where we were down approximately 28 percent."

The European market, he said, is also slow from June when most people are away on holiday and not in a position to buy flowers in bulk. He is, however, optimistic that the situation would improve by October, which would also serve as an indicator on how much the current economic meltdown had improved.

The Agricultural sector was also not spared by the vagaries of weather. Mbithi said the current drought had affected the fruits and vegetable sector. That notwithstanding, demand continues to be high but the industry is currently unable to meet it owing to scaling down of production by most small scale farmers. Small scale farmers account for 70 percent of the total horticultural production in the country.

Mbithi, however, believes that if the short rains fall as forecasted, the situation would improve. While he doesn’t see an increase in growth this year he expects it to equal last year’s.

“Maintaining last year’s levels is still a possibility so we are looking towards rapid sales at the end of this year but to be honest we don’t think it would be practical to expect our traditional 14-15 percent growth,” he said.

Mbithi took the opportunity to also clarify the government’s decision to focus on food security was partly to blame for the drop.“There is certainly no conflict between us and the government and we don’t feel it has lessened its support to us so as to focus on food security,” he said. He noted that all horticultural farms had to practice crop rotation where they had to introduce maize and beans so as to also contribute to the country’s food basket.

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