Euro ‘Green Mania Hits Kenya Flower Exports
Flower exporters who prop a big chunk of Kenya’s economy say they are struggling to keep their employees amid a string of new health and environmental regulations which have raised the cost of production.
Kenya’s flower industry, which produces about 33 percent of the world’s production, has been in the spotlight for the past few months following a stiff and sustained campaign from other European growers to have the flowers ejected from supermarket shelves in Europe .
Peter Szapary, the Chairman of the Lake Naivasha Growers Group, the flower grower’s body, says local growers were not responsible for the huge carbon dioxide emissions compared to other European growers who used more energy to produce their flowers.
“There was a hype earlier saying that we had a huge carbon footprint because we ship our products from Nairobi to the market, yes, but compared to a European producer who has to heat in winter and cool in the summer, ours is very little,” Szapary told reporters recently.
Local exporters have been battling against a string of EU conditionalities, including recent requirements to cut to bare minimum, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions during the production process.
They have instead resorted to energy saving measures and introduced new farming technologies which reduce the amount of water consumed in the industrial process to sustain their lead in the worldwide flower market.
Fighting against an increasingly volatile environment where every aspect of the business has to face off with various new challenges, the industry is struggling to get to the extra mile, just to keep their employees and stay in business.
“We are targeting the reduction in the cost of water which is very high. We are also targeting the reductions in the cost of fertilizers which is also very high, that is why we have an integrated pest management system,” Stephen Kamau, the Human Resource Manager at Oserian Development Company Limited told East African Business Week.
The flower producers, facing the possibility of incurring an 11% duty surcharge if East African states fail to seal a taxation deal with the EU by December this year, say they are struggling to cope with the huge challenges.
Kamau, the official from Oserian, one of the largest single cut-flower producers in Africa , said the firm has since introduced artificial soils and built a geothermal power plant to reduce the amount of carbon emissions. The company is applying a new farming technology called hydroponics in the farming jargon. This technology involves using artificial soils which conserve water.
The artificial soils are harnessed through grinding and sieving of silt obtained from the nearby Lake Naivasha . The soil is meant to consume little water, which is then drained back to tanks within the firm for re-application.
” Kenya has to do a lot to sustain its flower exports to Europe . We are facing a lot of cut-throat competition from other players who are using the media to tarnish our name. The more negative stories we get about the conditions under which the flowers are grown, the more we are hurt,” Kamau said.
Oserian supplies cut-flowers to the largest supermarket chains in the United Kingdom and Holland , but is among a group of Kenyan cut-flower producers who have overcome the effects of a huge campaign in Europe against flowers from Africa and other regions.
Local flower producers face strict environmental audits from European buyers and are expected to adhere to a set of social standards, including improving the welfare of their employees. The European buyers undertake regular inspections.
Kenya has been facing a tough time in the global flower market over negative reports in the foreign press about worker’s rights abuses.
Flower farms like Oserian have launched a drive to open up the gates of their factories to outsiders, including the media, to witness first-hand, the conditions under which the employees work.
United Kingdom’s Development Foreign Minister Hilary Benn came to the rescue of the Kenyan flowers in February this year when a smear campaign in Europe almost derailed Kenya ‘s horticultural success story.
“People want to buy ethically and do their bit for climate change, but often don’t realise that they can support developing countries and reduce carbon emissions,” Benn said in defense of the sustained campaign against the Kenyan-cut flowers.
Recent research shows that flowers flown from Africa can use less energy overall than those produced in Europe because they’re not grown in heated greenhouses.
William Songa, Kenya ‘s Agriculture Secretary says the country is emitting very low levels of carbon because the flower industry in Kenya does not depend entirely on greenhouses for the production of the flowers.
Flowers grown in Europe emit almost 50 times of carbon dioxide, compared to the amount that producers in Africa are emitting to the atmosphere.
Carol Andrews, Oserian Environment and Audit Manager, says the firm is taking care of the environmental concerns frequently raised from the EU buyers through a series of measures, including the introduction of non-fossil sources of fuel to reduce emissions.
“We are using geothermal energy, whose by-product is carbon dioxide. We harvest the carbon dioxide and put it back to the greenhouses for consumption,” she explained.
The firm has also introduced water-saving measures to reduce the outcry directed at flower farmers who are accused of contributing immensely to receding lake waters.
“We realised that with the (decreasing level) of Lake Naivasha being a predominant concern for everybody, any saving for water is very important. We are given permits for use of water which we are not allowed to exceed,” Andrews said.
Kenyan flower growers survived the anti-carbon miles campaign in February after the UK ‘s Minister for Development defense.
African producers of flowers have found compliance with emerging conditionalities tough because they have a direct increase in the cost of production.
Without new measures to lower the cost of production, the cut-flower growers are likely to face tough choices, including carrying out mass layoffs.
The flower producers say if they failed comply with the market’s demands, they could lose their control of the 33 percent share, which makes Kenya the single largest cut-flower producer globally. Szapary said Kenya ‘s carbon emissions would be higher, if the country depended on other fuel-fired sources of electricity.
“We are lucky to have geothermal energy. Our electricity would affect our ‘carbon footprint’ if we used fossil fuel but 20 percent of our national electricity consumption is geothermal and we are lucky to have it here in Naivasha,” he said on Sunday. Horticulture producers such as Oserian and Wild Fire Flowers, also a leading exporter from the flower zone, have resorted to harnessing geothermal energy and engaged in tactical measures to reduce the cost of producing flowers for the export market.
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