[Column] Bob Koigi: What the entry of small players portends for the flower industry
Africa’s smallholder farmers are the apex of agricultural output in the continent contributing a staggering 75percent of all agricultural production and creating millions of jobs in the process.
A host of farmers who have embraced brain fed agriculture, found new markets and invested in modern farming techniques have now turned into multimillionaires. Yet this smallholder farming explosion didn’t just happen.
From the predominantly large scale setting that drove the economy back then, small scale farmers have come of age to weather many storms and position smallholder agriculture in the country among the most enviable regionally. A new revolution is quietly booming, assuming similar route.
More smallholder farmers in key flower producing countries like Kenya are now delving into flower production and the export markets are opening up to them. And with the flower industry being one of the biggest export earners for such countries, farmers’ financial prospects can only get rosier.
Then there is the growing need for international customers to deal directly with smallholder farmers. More than ever before, consumers in the west are linked with producers in Africa through their product purchases.
This trend is likely to increase as retailers in Europe and the United States look more to small scale farmers in developing nations as environmentally sustainable sources of food supply.
This demand has particularly been exemplified by the growth in popularity of one of the largest flower trade expos, the International Flower Trade Expo, that has taken place in Kenya for the last six years attracting over 5,000 international delegates.
The expo is now seeing international buyers shunning the traditional market auctions to buy directly from the flower growers.
Such arrangements in other sectors have yielded tremendous returns for smallholder farmers.
A decision by Mark and Spencer, one of the leading retail stores in United Kingdom to shun middlemen and buy tea directly from the smallholder farmers in Othaya constituency in Kenya with their branded tea sold in UK stores has seen farmers grow yields and incomes over ten times.
It follows naturally that the growing interest by international flower companies would take same route.
Such are commendable steps by our smallholder farmers who have long been buffeted by the vagaries of over growing one type of crop. With market glut due to oversupply and tired soils producing low yields farmers desperation has reached epidemic proportions.
For example obsession with maize has meant that failed rains or lack of fertilizers will translate to low yields across the nation. No wonder lack of maize is synonymous with national hunger. But to farmers who have seen the magic in flower growing, incomes flower. According to one of the pioneer farmers he earns more from a quarter acre of flowers than his two acres of maize.
But with more farmers taking up flower farming danger looms. The international customers are very particular about what they buy and how it is grown.
Most of the farmers are not privy to international growing standards or how to better tend to flowers. Positioning smallholder farmers to the right flower growing mechanisms and pointing them to global best practices count more than ever.
Governments on their own cannot handle this. And this is where the private companies come in.
It is one thing to hype the smallholder flower farming revolution but it is another to get more farmers farming flowers that use the right inputs, grown from a point of information, and is packaged to create lasting impression in the global market.
Multiple award winning Kenyan journalist Bob Koigi is the Chief Editor of East Africa at Africa Business Communities