Jambo! (Hello in Swahili) I am a lucky man having been invited to the IFTEX Kenya 2017. Never having traveled to this continent my brain is bursting with new sights and sounds that I hope to spill out over the next pages here. Kenya is far from Miami and the western world yet the British left a indubitable mark on this African country including the Queens English and driving on the opposite side the road.
My impression of this country brings me back to my early days traveling to Colombia and Ecuador 30 years ago where there are too many buses spewing out black smoke and traffic that rivals Miami at 5 pm but with less traffic control. One thing that stood out to me was the lack of traffic lights, I did not see more than two in my time there. They seem to manage traffic with speed bumps that slow down traffic and allow the many people walking, as well as, the animals that are abundant in the country side to coexist.
As a westerner traveling outside the city and seeing Baboons and Warthogs just off the street and Giraffes and Zebra just behind some wire fences is simply, Cool. You can see the well worn paths of herding animals on the street sides and the warnings to drivers of “wild animal crossing” which takes on a whole new meaning in Africa. And of course where else can you see a young boys herding their goats down the street.
This is a country of extremes. There are very poor people and very rich people and not so much in the middle although there is a growing middle class. The fast growing capital city of Nairobi with a population of some 3.5 million people is dirty, dusty and yet not a scary place to be. There are very modern building casting shadows on the poor surrounding were people struggle to make a living selling whatever. As you travel outside the city you see what appears to be flea markets set up along the roads as well as small huts that house everything from truck stops to auto repair shops to lunch.
Another illustration of the extremes is that, here is a country awash in plastic trash and yet they have just banned sale and manufacturing of plastic bags as of August this year. Something most American cities have yet to do! These people care deeply about their environment,
Nearly everyone I meet asks me what I think of Kenya. My first impression is that there is lots of poverty but as a Westerner or even as a fellow human I do not feel qualified to determine the line between Poor and those living in poverty. I have been in the presence of many Kenyans from all walks of life and I find that even those with nothing, appear to be happy. Kenyans are happy people of this I am sure. When Janice Joplin sang the words penned by Kris Kristofferson “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” I can see this freedom in the faces of the people here.
But of course I came here to see flowers and flower people. The good folks at HPP, the show organizers, of this 6th edition of IFTEX Kenya have outdone themselves with this impressive show.
The show is held at a religious Ashram which made the event a bit more sobering than a normal “western” show. The main difference is that the ashram, being a place of worship, does not allow alcohol and that must have been an interesting selling point to the Dutchman that are ever present at floral events and like to include some adult beverages in their stands/booths. Despite this sobering account the show exceeded my expectations in every way.
The 200 plus exhibitors had very impressive stands and the quality of the flowers was quite an eye opener. I have been following the growth of the African Floral industry for about 20 years and all I can say is that the South American growers need to keep a keen eye on this fast growing industry.
Much like South America in the early days the nature of flower growing and who owns the farms is very similar. There are those who have money and ample land that find the idea of growing flowers prestigious and invest money with little understanding of the business and fail. One notable giant failure was the Sher group that at one point was reported to be the largest farm in the World. This huge farm was sold by the owner to an Asian investment firm that ended up with the proverbial, tiger by the tail (how appropriate) and the whole thing collapsed leaving behind empty greenhouse littering the land. These remnants can be seen as one drives toward Lake Navasha and give a horrible impression of the floral business to anyone that sees passes by.
Next there are those that take the time to investigate the business often calling on the many Dutch firms that offer consultancy to really understand what the risk are and where the owner can often be found on the farms daily, thus hands on and likely successful. Finally there are real farmers that understand the land and the resources required to grow high quality products.
Walking around this show it is obvious that Roses are the main product and due to the many growing climates around Kenya the quality of the products rival anything I have seen in South America. Those above 2000 meters are competing well against the Ecuadorians that they are tying to imitate with 5 cm head sizes and long stem of 80cm. Most growers are still growing the Sweetheart or so called intermediate roses which last long and are prefect for bouquet making. While there are other crops such as hypericum, gyp and other fillers the supply is 80% roses.
Ethiopia was represented with a large stand and top quality products. This is another flower producing country to watch.
I visited 3 growers. Oserian, Wildfire, and Aquila. Oserian has 200 hectares under production and is in the process of consolidating their various farms into one large one for better logistics and quality control. Employing over 3500 people and exporting an average of one million stems per day. They are using the very latest geothermal equipment to power their farm in the effort to be carbon neutral. They send one contain of flowers per week to Europe and maintain different temperature and handling techniques for flowers traveling by and and sea. The sell mostly direct to buyers and prefer not to use the auctions in Holland. As you will hear this is a popular theme with the growers here.
Next we visited Wildfire Flowers. They sell Mostly to Germany and Japan with 500 employees tending to 15 hectares of roses and 15 hectares of Hypericum. Sitting at 1800 meters above sea level the claim to sold out since they only do contract growing. No Auction!
Finally we went to Aquila. Here 28 hectares are tended to by some 750 employees selling 99% to Europe of Gyp Rosemary and Sunflowers….again No auction flowers.
Ok there are great flowers here and they are eager to sell to new markets like the US and China. However Logistics remain a major obstical.
There are currently no direct flights to the US so Kenyan flowers must make a stop in Amsterdam or other transfer cities where they can catch a flight to a US city. This extra cost and handling make the prospect using Kenyan flowers challenging. With that said, the talk all over the show was about the fact that direct flights have been approved and so now we wait to see where they will land who the carrier will be and what the cost will be.
I have insisted to anyone that would listen that if Miami is not on this list then buyers and sellers will be limited to the local markets of the those cities where the direct flight land. If Miami is one of the cities then the industry can take advantage of the very floral friendly distribution system that exist.
The Kenyan growers are very certification aware and so it is easy to find the best certification labels visible everywhere. The Certification process is not yet totally accepted or demanded by buyers here in the US but that is changing fast as the mass market has begun to demand the certifications to do business. Many Westerners feel that the label is simply a stamp of approval that you buy just to keep your clients happy.
However, I was able to meet with 3 growers that use the MPS certification label and learned the merits of having the label as it relates to running their farms. The reports and data provided by farm inspections and data gathering was of huge value to these growers who explained that it helped them do a better job of managing pesticide use and best practices for employees. This was very good to hear.
The Kenyan Flower Council, the industry trade group similar to SAF here in the US is very active and having their certification alone if enough to assure a buyer that they are dealing with farms that are Environmentally and Socially responsible.
HPP events always feature an evening with a dinner/dance/ have a good time party, and this one did not disappoint. Muscular native men doing acrobatics and exotic women dancing like you might expect from Africa. Think Sirque de sole Kenya.
No trip to Kenya should end without a day Safari to the Kenyan National Park. Here one can do a day trip to see exotic animals in the wild and be back to the hotel before happy hour. This included a trip to the Elephant rescue center and the Giraffe center.
I got kissed by a giraffe… and I liked it!
Finally when people ask me what I do I tell them I get to travel to floral events to take pictures of Beautiful Women and flowers and write a story about it.
If my words and images have peaked your interest in Africa and African flowers I am pleased to make the following offer.
“Flowersandcents and Hpp are organizing a tour for North American buyers, June 6,7,8, 2018. if you are interested in this adventure please contact me ASAP for availability.”