Away from the limelight, a flower firm in Naivasha is quietly deploying green energy solutions in its operations, including use of electric cars.
Oserian flower farm has deployed 16 electric trucks to ferry flowers on its expansive farm as it seeks to be the industry leader in the use of green technology.
Sourced from Netherlands, the vehicles are charged using electricity generated from its two 3.2MW geothermal power plants.
They are helping reduce use of fossil fuel trucks to transport millions of flower stems it harvests every year from the field to its pack house, where they are wrapped before export.
“Our goal is to use natural solutions for a greener, safer environment. We have reduced the use of diesel on the farm and we are investing heavily in biological solutions to deal with pests and diseases,” says Human Resources and Administration Director Mary Kinyua.
The firm says its green initiatives have seen it cut diesel usage on its premises by 80 per cent. It now uses 80,000 litres of diesel a year down from 400,000 litres.
In another first, the firm is turning to biological pesticides to reduce over-reliance on chemicals harmful to the environment and workers.
The firm says it is researching and breeding ‘good’ pests that eat the harmful pests in the flower farms through a technology known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), thereby cutting the exposure of chemicals to thousands of employees.
Julius Kigamba, a compliance officer at the firm, has deployed a full range of IPM to help it exploit the benefits of using biological methods in dealing with pests.
Besides churning out quality flowers, the biological methods help reduce the need to spray the farms.
Oserian says workers in its spray department are routinely checked for chemical enzymes every three months.
“Sprayers are rotated every six months,” Ms Kinyua says while outlining a raft of other measures in place to ensure safe use and handling of chemicals.
A recent report by a non-governmental organisation on the impact of pesticide poisoning on workers claimed that more than 50 per cent of the employees sampled in Kenyan flower farms had been severely affected by chemical poisoning.
Another report compiled by the Labour and Environment Watch monitoring team, an NGO, established that out of 630 workers surveyed, 352 were found to be severely affected by chemicals used in the farms.
It suggested that behind the Sh80 billion industry are shocking tales of thousands of poorly-paid flower workers, some of whom have paid the ultimate price from chemical poisoning, as the state and labour organisations become complicit onlookers torn between facing the problem head on and protecting local jobs.
Oserian says it has also put in place sufficient measures to ensure staff do not suffer chemical poisoning as alleged in the Blooms of Death report, which fingered 15 flower farms as being dangerous for workers.
“Employees working in the greenhouses are never exposed and therefore there is no requirement to issue them with Personal Protective Equipment. However, those who undertake spraying duties are fully equipped and trained,” says Kinyua.
The firm said it supports over 11,000 employees and their families living in its estate – the average family size is two children.
It also said it does not use any WHO Class One rated chemicals nor does it use chemicals in any blacklist – be that Fairtrade, Global Gap, MPS, and the EU, among other bodies.
“Therefore, all pesticide usage is in accordance to applicable legislation. We routinely undertake residue test every month – an exercise undertaken by an independent entity that takes its own samples from the farm rather than receive selected material from us,” it says.