[Column] Bob Koigi: Rosey days ahead for Kenya flowers with the approval of direct flights to US
The recent upgrading of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Category A status which now approved non- stop flights between Kenya and United States is one of Kenya’s greatest landmarks.
But one of the key beneficiaries of this historic fete is the flower industry that has in the recent past made successful inroads in the US market but have to still grapple with long distances in accessing the prime market.
Kenya has traditionally counted on the EU market for its exports, accounting for about 40 per cent of the market. However over reliance on this market has in more than one time hurt Kenya’s earnings with volatile market prices, competition from traditional rivals like Ecuador, and harsh climatic conditions conspiring to scale down Kenya’s pride of place in the region.
Though Kenya has put on a spirited campaign to market her unique and high quality flower varieties in the US market, including sending delegation and exhibitors to some of the most prolific flower expos including the Miami Flower Show which attracts high profiled delegates worldwide, getting our flowers to this market has proven a tall order. Without the Category 1 rating conferred on Kenya by the Federal Aviation Administration, all flights to the U.S. have had to make a stopover in another country with the same ranking, usually in Europe or the Middle East.
The distance from Africa to the US puts Kenya and other African countries at a disadvantage, translating to high costs of production.
The multiple connections make the trip longer and compromises on on-time performance as there may be connection delays and missed connections, while multiple handling in the hubs exposes the cargo to mishandling that may reduce or degrade the cargo quality.
It is why the JKIA upgrading is such a big deal for us and for our economy considering flowers are one of the largest foreign exchange earners.
Exporters say they will be able to save up to 20 per cent of their cargo operating cost while reducing the number of days it takes to transport export cargo from seven to one.
The enthusiasm in the industry following this development has been palpable. I remember reading a tweet from the sector’s umbrella body, the Kenya Flower Council which welcomed the move and expressed eagerness to deliver Kenyan flowers to the US. The Council hopes flights will be in place by June, in time for the International Floriculture Expo in Chicago, which would definitely be a major score for us.
Direct access to the US market also means Kenyan flowers finally gets to have their own identity. Traditionally and in certain circumstances the exports have been sold in wholesale flower auctions and repackaged in Europe, then re-exported for the US market, where consumers have no idea of their origin.
While the flowers passing through Europe make money, they don’t help establish the reputation and brand of Kenyan flowers in the United States. The direct link now clients can now be aware and start appreciating the origin of the flowers they buy.
We can only participate a sustained spike in exports to US considering that the market had started warming up to the Kenyan flowers even before the upgrading of JKIA.
According to 2016 figures by IAG Cargo the cargo handling division of the International Airlines Group, flower volumes destined for the US increased by more than 50 perception on previous year’s season, with popular destinations including Vancouver and New York.
This increase in shipments reflects a wider trend: increased e-commerce capabilities have enabled buyers, particularly in the US, to source flowers directly from farmers, predominantly those in Kenya.
Multiple award winning Kenyan journalist Bob Koigi is the Chief Editor East Africa at Africa Business Communities