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High freight charges hamper Kenya’s small-scale flower exports

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The number of flowers produced by small-scale farmers in Kenya has been on the rise in recent years, but few are able to sell them in the export market due to high freight charges.

It costs up to 400 shillings (4 U.S. dollars) per kilo to ship flowers to America or the European Union via Schiphol in the Netherlands, according to the Kenya Flower Council (KFC), an amount that is too high for smallholder farmers.

Most small-scale farmers in the east African nation grow summer flowers that include eryngium and arabicum, which are bulky, thus, attract high freight charges.

The latter is the most common because it is highly sought in the export market to blend roses because of its beautiful white and yellow flowers.

"Production of arabicum is common among small-scale summer flower growers in Kenya because it is an easy out-door product.

However, the supply to the market has kept on reducing over the years," Anita Mureithi of the Royal FloraHolland Kenya Limited said on Wednesday.

Unlike roses or gypsophila, summer flowers like arabicum are heavy, therefore, one pays more freight costs, which have also kept on increasing.

"The product is bulky and freight costs keep on increasing.

"Some growers are, therefore, switching to light products as they aim for bigger profit margins," she said.

The situation has forced some small-scale farmers in Kenya who produce small volumes to sell through agents, and therefore earn less.

"Before I got into the business, I looked for market first from a local agent since it is expensive to export your own produce directly.

"I then worked with the buyer’s agronomist to ensure that the flowers I produce were acceptable to them," said Thomas Sang, a farmer in Bomet, who sells the products to Wilmar Flowers based in Thika.

Besides arabicum and eryngium, other popular summer flowers are ammi, mobydick, tuberosa, onis and claspedia.

The flowers are mainly grown in Machakos, Bomet, Limuru, Thika, Kisii, Kericho, Murang’a, Kiambu and Nyeri.

However, some farmers like Josephine Mutuku, who grows the crop in Machakos on two acres, exports directly to the Netherlands.

"I have partnered with another farmer from the county, we therefore bulk our produce and export to a buyer in the Netherlands.

"This way we share the freight charges but it is certainly expensive due to the big nature of the arabicum flowers we farm," she said, noting she produces 200,000 stems and sells each at 0.05 dollars.

However, Kenya’s major cut flower export products are roses, with the east African nation shipping about a billion stems annually to Europe through the Netherlands, earning 1 billion dollars in 2017, according to the KFC.

From arabicum last year, Kenyan small-scale farmers exported 193,796 kilos directly, latest data from the flower council shows.

This is equivalent to 415,348 dollars but the figure could be higher if the value of those who export through agents is captured.

Clement Tulezi, the chief executive of KFC, said the institution is working to unlock trade and non-trade barriers in emerging and new markets for Kenyan farmers, both small and big.

It also maintains relations with buyer associations and support exporters to conform with requirements of existing markets.



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