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September 25, 2009

Kenya’s flower sector shrinks after 20-year bloom

by Catherine Riungu

The bloom is off the rose with a vengeance — Kenya’s once thriving flower industry shrank this year by 33 per cent. This was after experiencing luxuriant growth for over two decades.

“For the first time in close to 20 years, the flower industry has registered negative growth, with the period up to September 2009 registering 80,000 tonnes, down from 120,000 tonnes the previous year,” said Kenya Flower Council chief executive officer Jane Ngige. She added, “We project that by December, the sector will be down by almost 40 per cent.”

Expectations that the high season would bring better returns are fading, owing to the twin blights of the global financial crisis and the scorching sun.

The Kenya Flower Council reported at its recent 2009 annual general meeting in Nairobi week that it is not business as usual.

For almost two decades now, the sector has boasted an annual positive growth rate of 15 per cent-plus.

The high season begins in September and ends in early July, but the falling waters of Lake Naivasha, the wilting demand by external markets and the renewed carbon miles debate in the UK have conspired to spread gloom.

There is little sign of an immediate answer to the multiple challenges facing the industry.

Reports indicate that demand for flowers dropped by 30 per cent in the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2008, as consumers in rich countries cut down spending due to layoffs and an employment freeze in Europe, Kenya’s principal market.

“With less money to spend, people are staying indoors for longer, reducing the demand for flowers,” said Fresh Produce Exporters of Kenya (Fpeak) chairman Tiku Shah. Growers have confirmed that in the coming months, they will have to prune workers off the payroll.

“Workers will be the first casualty,” said an exporter who did not want to be named for fear of spreading panic in the labour-sensitive sector.

The growers, however, are in a precarious situation, with trade unions signalling that they will not accept layoffs.

The East African

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