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Flower farms re-open after Covid disruption

A worker from Van-Den-Berg company, one of the major flower farms in Naivasha, prepares roses. Kenya is one of the leading producers of roses in the world. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

Workers who had lost their jobs after flower farms in Naivasha shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic have a reason to smile after the farms resumed operations.

The closure of the farms that was meant to curb the spread of coronavirus had hit the export business hard and  exports dropped to less than 20 per cent in two months.

More than 2,000 workers were rendered jobless for three months when the companies closed due to the lockdown in the European markets.

But yesterday, the companies under the Lake Naivasha Growers Groups (LNGG) announced that the business was back to normal and that they have already hit 60 per cent exports-mark.

Export earners

Most employers have also started recalling their workforce as tidings in the sector that is one of the leading exports earners changed.

According to LNGG, an organisation that brings together the top flower farms in Naivasha, there was hope for the sector after a grim period.

Joseph Kariuki, the group’s chief executive, said the EU market was opening up after the lockdown caused by the pandemic with 90 per cent of their staff back to work.

He said that members of the organisation accounted for 70 per cent of flowers exported from Kenya and had borne the major losses during the period.

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“Currently, our exports stand at 60 per cent despite challenges such as high freight charges since many airlines are not operational but we hope this will change with time,” he said.

Kariuki denied allegations that the farms had sent home over 10,000 workers.

He said despite the effects of the pandemic, no worker had been sacked but had been sent on unpaid leave.

“Reports in the media that flower farms in Naivasha have sacked their workers are misleading as we have maintained our workforce but they are home on unpaid leave,” he said during a stakeholders meeting at Hell’s Gate National Park.

One of the farmers, Jack Kneppers, said that all their production of around 180,000 stems of roses were been shipped out every day.

Kneppers, who is the MD of Maridadi Flower Farm, added that all his 700 workers were back on duty since the demand for the produce has increased.

“On a normal day, we export around 220,000 stems of roses but some of our greenhouses are under maintenance but all the daily harvest is being shipped out,” he said.

He added that they were keenly following the laid down Covid-19 regulations of social distancing, wearing of masks, monitoring their workers temperatures and hand-washing.

“We are happy that the market is finally reopening and nearly 75 percent of cargo planes are operating but many farmers are not operating fully due to the losses incurred,” he said.

But Ferdinand Juma, the secretary-general Kenya Plantations and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) Naivasha branch, accused some farms of using the pandemic to change workers’ employment contracts.

Suspend contracts

He said that the pandemic had become an excuse for the employers to suspend their workers’ contracts even as the EU market opened up.

“We understand that the pandemic has seen farmers incurring huge losses but it’s illegal to review the employees’  contract based on the current crisis,” he said.

Clement Tulezi, the CEO of Kenya Flower Council, said the sector had started recovering despite emerging challenges like high freight charges.

Tulezi noted that they expected exports to go up by 80 per cent by the end of this year as various EU countries relax their lockdown regulations.

“We have been one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic and we project that we shall return to normal business by mid next year,” he said.

He added that -that it would take a year for the floriculture sector to fully recover following the financial losses brought about by Covid-19 pandemic.

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