Flower farming in Kenya for years has been the preserve of the big local and foreign farmers and companies, mainly situated in Naivasha, northwest of the capital Nairobi.
While big players produce the bulk of flowers, in particular, the highly sought-after roses, which are exported to Europe via the Netherlands, smallscale farmers are also taking up the trade in droves.
The smallholders are mainly growing summer flowers, which are used to blend the others for a perfect bouquet.
The farmers are spread across the east African nation in a fast-growing, thriving trade that has seen them become exporters of the produce, through agents.
Thomas Sang is one of the smallscale farmers growing summer flowers in Kenya and exporting to the Netherlands through a local firm.
The farmer grows the cash crop on three-quarter of an acre in Bomet and has been in the business for over six years.
Arabicum, ammi, Moby-Dick, eryngium, tuberosa, onis and claspedia are some of the summer flowers that are popular with the small farmers.
“I farm Arabicum, ammi and Moby-Dick on a rotational basis. Occasionally, I also venture to eryngium but that is only when I am told by the buyer, Wilmar Flowers, which is based in Thika, on the outskirts of Nairobi,” he said on Saturday.
The company supplies the planting materials, and he plants them, applying animal manure and a nitrogen fertilizer at a rate of 50 grams per meter square.
“For arabicum, a 90 kg sack of planting material which goes for 2,300 shillings (22.7 U.S. dollars) is enough for my farm.
The plants mature in three to four months and I start harvesting the splits. For Moby-Dick, I spent 39.6 dollars on the planting materials and they mature in six months,” he explained.
The beautiful flowers are sold in grades ABC, with the grading depending on the circumference in the case of Ammi and the size of the stem for Moby-Dick. Grade A goes for 0.04 dollars per stem, Grade B 0.03 dollars and Grade C 0.02 dollars.
However, sometimes prices rise to up to 0.11 dollars and for Sang, that has only happened once when he had planted Moby-Dick.
He reaped over 495 dollars per harvest, he recalled.
The reason why the smallholders in Bomet, Thika, Kisii, Kericho, Murang’a Kiambu, Nyeri are taking up the trade is because it needs little capital to start and the summer flowers do not require much water, are resistant to pests and diseases and are tolerant to various soil conditions unlike roses, the bulk in Kenya which are farmed in greenhouses.
“With 148 dollars, you are good to start a flower business on a quarter acre,” said Charles Kinyanjui, a farmer in Kikuyu, on the outskirts of Nairobi.
According to him, an acre of arabicum can earn one up to 8,415 dollars, with less than a quarter of the money going on production. On the other hand, Moby-Dick offers up to 7,000 dollars per acre.
“But the best thing to do is to find the market first, ensure that you have a buyer because as a small farmer, you cannot export your little produce directly.
You will work with the buyer’s agronomist to ensure that you produce what is acceptable to them,” he said.
Heavy rains or too much watering are among the worst enemies of summer flowers, according to Nelson Maina, an agronomist with the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation.
He advises farmers to ensure they water the plants sparingly especially after they have grown so that they end up with quality products and time their planting to coincide with periods when there is little rain.
The bulk of the flowers grown in Kenya are sold in Europe, but emerging markets in Asia especially in Japan and China, are showing great potential.
Kenya exports about a billion stems of roses annually to Europe through the Netherlands, according to the Kenya Flower Council, earning 1 billion dollars in 2017.
The rose flowers are grown in Naivasha, Mt Kenya, Kitale, Nakuru, Kiambu and Nakuru.