Roses, carnations and other fresh flowers are shipped mainly to Europe from Africa. Boom days for Africa’s flower export include special occasions such as: Valentines day, Fathers day, Mothers day and the Christmas period. Flowers are a huge business to African countries, top on the list being Kenya. Others include: Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Kenya’s involvement in flower trade had its beginning soon after the end of Second World War where it was started by retired British army officers on a small-scale near Limuru. Kenya is not only the leading flower exporter in Africa but has also caught up with Israel and Colombia being one of the fastest growing international flower production regions.
The flower industry is one of the promising sectors in Africa in terms of foreign exchange earnings and employment creation. It employs between 4,000 to 50,000 people in Kenya and Uganda respectively. Women in particular have benefited from supplying between 65-75 per cent of the total labor force. In a labor surplus continent such as Africa, the sector is therefore of particular benefit.
Inspite of its importance, the industry is still beset by limitations such as poor labor practices and environmental hazards. The European traceability rules are also far from being loosened. Numerous codes of ethics aimed at satisfying the requirements of those Northern markets have consequently been put in place. The flower industry is therefore crowded with many codes, most of which essentially adds the cost of production particularly of the small scale farmers. Although adoption and implementation by these codes should benefit the workers through improved labor conditions, this has not been the case. But the most important point to note is that poor labor conditions have become less acceptable locally but more so in the North. The North particularly Europe, which is the chief market, cannot be relied upon with precise prediction due to strict export requirements. Europe can thus hold Africa flower producers at ransom, save for those that are foreign owned.
What is the way forward for Africa? Africa has a greater potential for flower production, which should be expanded particularly by Africans themselves. Africa has climatic advantage of flower production. In the Lake Victoria region where temperatures are higher than any other major rose exporting countries in the world, it is said that the Netherlands yield can be obtained in eight months. Most of the African countries such as Kenya enjoy good climatic conditions favorable for growing flowers all year round. Indeed, production of flowers is now moving away from traditional growers such as Netherlands, Germany and France to countries where climates are better and production costs are lower. The Netherlands for instance has shifted attention from production to mere trading.
Unfortunately most of the large-scale flower firms in Africa are foreign owned. They are financially and organizationally able to meet the strict requirements of the EU market in their quest for traceability and quality control. They are advantaged for having a direct and integrated supply chain with guaranteed cargo space on flights from the country of origin to certain sales in EU. Most of the locally owned flower firms are on the other hand small scale and disadvantaged for having to deal with agents in the supply chain, hence having weaker marketing links and exposure to many risks in that their product may not even have space on flights.
Most Africans thus do not own a significant flower production process compared to the foreign countries that own most of the large firms and therefore have a greater market advantage. With regard to market, most African flowers continue to be exported to developed countries where prices are higher. In the contrary, Africans who are playing a key role in flower production surprisingly consume about 10% of the flowers they produce.
Most Africans do not have a culture of loving flowers. In fact most of those employed in the flower firms in Africa just make billions of money but have never consumed even a stem of rose flower not even during Valentines Day. One reason that perhaps may explain why Africans do not have a culture of consuming flowers is perhaps the poverty status. Africa has a potential which should be exploited to enable kick out poverty and subsequently create a flower market for herself. If Europe rejected our flowers where else should we go given that our domestic consumption is just about 10%?
Africa must therefore increase ownership of the flower production process, and strive to create an internal market for flowers. Merely exporting them implies that the continent does not have an alternative market. Africans must “love” flowers!