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IFTEX 2014 show reflects the optimism of the Kenyan rose industry

The IFTEX show was recently held in Nairobi, Kenya, amidst great optimism within the Kenyan floral industry, while also clouded by the prospect of insecurity and terrorism threats that plague Kenya. The pro-business, cheerful spirit of the Kenyan people was on full display throughout the exhibition hall as they welcomed the foreign visitors to their country, encouraging us to explore the beauty and wildlife of the countryside while also urging prudent caution and common sense.

A total of 187 exhibitors displayed their products to the 3,231 visitors who attended the show from more than 54 countries. The exhibitors were comprised of flower growers, logistics providers, growing supplies companies and other varied ancillary companies that support the Kenyan cut flower industry.

The best grower and breeder competition was held during the show with Terra Nigra taking the gold for its new rose variety “Firestar” and Select Breeding honored for its variety “SunQueen.” Taking home the awards in the rose grower classification were Ayana Farms for its “Freedom” rose and Uhuru Flowers for “Martim.”

The Kenyan floral industry started in the late 1970s with modest production in the Naivasha area and has now increased to approximately 6,175 acres of rose production, plus an expanding area in summer flowers, greens and fillers. Some projections expect rose production to develop beyond 7,410 acres by the end of 2015, with growing operations sprouting up throughout the country at different elevations and in many different regions.

The driving force behind the growth in the Kenyan flower industry has been the European market where approximately 40 percent of the flowers sold originate from Kenya. The FloraHolland auction continues to be the biggest player in Kenyan flowers, though the market is now expanding to Russia, Asia and Australia, with small quantities to the United States.

The reasons Kenyan flowers are mainly finding markets in Europe are the proximity and the enormous capacity of air cargo that is dedicated to serving this market.

Conversely, the United States is not only quite far away, but is supplied with many of the same products from Colombia and Ecuador via shorter, cheaper and direct flights. At present, there are no direct flights from Kenya to the United States due to security issues at the Nairobi airport that have kept the airlines from getting approval from U.S. aviation.

While meeting with growers at the show, and during the visits that I made to farms, I asked them all about their expansion plans and where they intended to place this additional product. They all mentioned increasing their sales to Europe and Russia while also stressing the need to supply the increasing demand in emerging markets like Turkey, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Japan and Hong Kong. Surprisingly, only one farm stated that it intended to make a push for the U.S. market.

The historical growth of the Kenyan flower industry, coupled with the projections for accelerated expansion of plantings, make this region a big player in our industry with much more influence on the market in years to come. As the global logistics chain improves, Kenyan flower production will certainly be affecting the U.S. market either directly or indirectly through increased competition with our current supply model.

Frank Biddle is owner and managing partner at Tradewinds International in Boulder, CO. He can be contacted at Frank@twiconsol.com.