Flower farms face turbulence as more companies close down

A worker at Maridadi flower farm, Naivasha, cuts roses for export. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

The floriculture industry, one of the country’s top foreign exchange earners is facing new threats and turbulence with a couple of farms closing down.

Others are scaling down their operations. Punitive taxes, high cost of farm inputs, double taxation, rising labour wages, stagnant prices and high freight charges are some of the key challenges facing the sector.

The Covid-19 pandemic worsened the situation - making the flower exports stall. Some farmers are yet to recover from the losses.

To cut losses, some farms have scaled-down operations as others resorted to outsourcing various services leading to major jobs losses.

According to the Kenya Flower Council (KFC), the thorns and not the roses in the hundreds of greenhouses were sticking out like a sore thumb as farmers tried to come to terms with the harsh economic times.

According to Council Chief Executive Clement Tulezi, lack of support from the government pushed the farmers to the wall. He said the third-largest foreign exchange earner employs thousands of people directly and indirectly with little support from the government.

“We have seen sectors like tea, sugar and coffee get tax waivers from the government but in the floriculture sector, we are forgotten despite the billions of shillings that we bring in every year,” he said.

Some of the flowers that had closed down according to Tulezi include Magana, Harvest, James Finlay, Karuturi while Oserian farm had scaled down its operations.

Maridadi flower farm worker packages roses for export. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

“We have seen a trend where some farms are closing down or changing their nature of business due to lack of support from the government and the crippling high taxes,” he said.

Tulezi however noted that the issue of double taxation was resolved after they won two cases in Nakuru and Meru law courts. “The only challenge that we are currently experiencing is a move by Nyandarua County which is still charging cess targeting vegetable farmers,” he said.

However, the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) accused some farms of casualisation of labour which had seen more workers put on contracts. According to KPAWU Secretary-General Naivasha Branch Ferdinand Juma, the move had raised fear and anxiety among the workers.

Juma said that tens of workers from other smaller farms had at the height of the pandemic lost their jobs with employers pointing to the high cost of production. “There is a crisis in the flower farms and we are calling on the national government to address the issues raised by the farmers to save thousands of jobs,” he said.

Tens of workers from small farms lost their jobs at the height of the pandemic. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

Juma said the fate of Karuturi workers had not been resolved six years after the farm that at one time produced over a million stems of roses per day was put under receivership.

“Some of the workers have died waiting for their savings while the area hospital has been closed down and the fate of the nearby schools hangs in the balance,” he said.

According to Juma, the new trend was also meant to lock out workers from being represented by the trade union.

Juma noted the seasonal workers were not entitled to pay rise and other benefits which were awarded to permanent employees.

“We have seen cases where investors are employing workers on a seasonal basis meaning that they cannot get the annual pay rise as it’s per the labour laws,” he said.Juma identified Oserian, Shalimar, Beautyline and Olij as some of the farms that had placed the majority of their workers on contract.

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