The horticulture export industry especially the cut-flowers sub-sector is arguably one of the biggest losers of the Covid-19 outbreak.
While ornamentals are part of agriculture that was marked by President Uhuru Kenyatta as an essential service and spared movement restrictions as Kenya took measures to contain the spread of the virus, flowers are mainly an export crop with little local consumption.
It is a painful story of flowers being harvested and discarded, thousands of employees sent home, hundreds of businesss that thrived in ‘flower’ towns closing shop and investors left with liabilities to settle.
The growers say they are hopeful the markets will bloom after the spread of the virus globally is flattened. People in the west love flowers and one of the first things they will purchase to brighten and sooth themselves is flowers, according to market experts. They are therefore struggling to keep the plants alive and this costs money to feed the crops and pay labour. The reasoning is that after the dark clouds pass markets will expect supplies and failure to deliver will lead to loss of customers permanently.
In the middle of this uncertainty, the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, through the Agriculture Sector Network (ASNET) crafted the Flowers of Hope caravan. The caravan involved mobilising flowers from growers through the Kenya Flower Council to be distributed by Rotary International to hospitals in Kenya and abroad. It was then decided to request President Uhuru Kenyatta to pen a message of hope that would be printed on the flower sleeves. On receiving the proposal, the President set up a committee chaired by Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’ with membership from KEPSA, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Kenya Airways and the Kenya Flower Council to implement the plans.
The message read: There have been a few moments in history when the world has faced a crisis as far-reaching and consequential as this. It is exactly at moments such as this that we must display our humanity, perseverance and hope. Whatever the adversity, no matter the foe, we shall triumph together. We stand united. Tuko Pamoja. From Kenya with love.
At Kepsa, Bimal Kantaria, the co-chair of ASNET took the responsibility to lead the Flowers of Hope Caravan. Mr Kantaria is the Managing Director of Elgon Kenya, an agriculture inputs company and a leading supplier to the flower industry.
He therefore understood very well the pain the growers are experiencing. Mr Kantaria decided to donate all the flower sleeves on which the presidents message was printed to support the initiative, organized for transport and particpated at the flagging off of the caravan at the Kenyatta National Hospital. It was at KNH he first heard of the need for medical supplies especially masks that were, and still are, in high demand. Elgon Kenya added masks to its support system for the flower caravan, a move that has seen thousands of masks supplied to hospitals and other covid support groups like police on curfew and roadblocks.
As businesses shut down and scale down operations, Elgon Kenya has not sent any of its staff home, nor cut their pay. Instead, the firm is providing a food pack to staff, the community and other selected need groups.
For his efforts in leading the flower industry support to Covid-19 efforts, Bimal Kantaria was on this Madaraka Day among the 66 Uzalendo Champions recognized by President Uhuru Kenyatta for their efforts.
The flower industry has for once been recognized locally for stepping outside the greenhouse to spread hope and smiles among the covid-19 frontline workers here and abroad, an indication of the importance of a sector that has given Kenya a global profile.