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Flower farmers hit as market shrinks over the global crisis

BUSINESS
By Moses Michira | March 18th 2020

A worker from Maridadi flower farm harvests and later dumps mature roses which were ready for export due to lack of market. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

Flower farmers are finding themselves in a catch-22 situation where they have to tend to their crop as usual only to harvest and dispose of their otherwise precious produce.

On the one hand, they have to maintain the crop in the farms hoping that the disruptions caused by the coronavirus on the overseas market will begin to recede when the indefinite lockdown is lifted.

But on the other, tending to the crop involves harvesting mature blooms only to dispose of them because there is no means to get them to the market since potential buyers are holed up in their houses.

Expensive affair

Maintaining a flower farm is a hugely expensive affair that involves regular pruning, applying fertilisers and spraying pesticides and fungicides to protect crop from vagaries of weather and destructive insects.

Add that to the cost of keeping the employees on the farms, the implications of coronavirus, formally known as Covid-19, is striking hard.

Such is the situation that Rosabell Nyamu, who links small farmers with buyers in various overseas markets, is dealing with for weeks since the imposition of complete lockdown in key markets compounded the cancellation of flights to these destinations.  

“Matters are turning out to be very bad in several farms where there is a hundred per cent discarding of the harvest,” she told The Standard.

Most small-scale flower farmers are growing their crop on fields ranging from as small as five acres and depend on consolidators such as Ms Nyamu to find a market.

A key disadvantage for small farmers is that their produce is sold through the auction in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, rather than direct sales to partnering outlets which are primarily supermarkets.

More established farms often have structured arrangements with outlets, but they too have been hit since they too do not have means of getting their produce to retailers’ doorsteps, according to the Kenya Flower Council (KFC).

Clement Tulezi, the chief executive of KFC, had projected in an earlier interview that things in the flower trade were likely to halt to a standstill.

Minimal orders from the United Kingdom and Australia are still trickling in but the two markets are not nearly as important as the rest of Europe which is bearing the brunt of Covid-19, Ms Nyamu added.

An estimated 55,000 cases of infections had been confirmed in Italy, Spain, Germany and France yesterday afternoon against 2,814 deaths, to inform the measures being taken to tame the exponential spread of the virus.

But the interventions are having untold implications thousands of miles away, especially around the flower-growing areas of Nakuru and Laikipia counties.

Massive losses

In essence, what is a healthcare nightmare in the key flower markets abroad is manifesting in massive losses among farmers and traders Kenya.

So far, there are four confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Kenya. The patients are all recovering at an isolation ward at the Kenyatta National Hospital while the people they interacted with are also confined at Mbagathi District Hospital awaiting tests. 

Global statistics on the Covid-19 indicate that it is elderly patients — above the age of 70 with underlying health problem — who are mostly at risk of infection and even death.

The four Kenyans who have contracted the disease are said to be young people, indicating that they are likely to recover. Many people have expressed optimism, hope shared by government officials, including Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, that new infections are unlikely to soar.

Covid 19 Time Series

 

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