Very few dads during the recent ‘International Father’s Day’ got a bouquet of flowers as a gift, never mind that Kenya is the third largest exporter of fresh cut flowers in the world, accounting for around 40percent of all sales in the European Union.
This is unlike International Mother’s Day, when women all over the world, and more so in the chocolate-and-flower present loving nations of the USA, Russia and Ukraine, can expect to receive a bunch of fragrant roses, yellow asters, pink carnations and campanula, lily-coloured lilies, blue lisianthu, purple mathiola, orange marigold coco, sun-coloured sunflowers, or even crimson Snap Dragons, all species of petals that are exported from Kenya in the millions every single day.
In-fact anyone in any sphere of the globe who is lucky enough to be the recipient of roses, it is likely the bunch came from Kenya, with our roses, alongside our carnations and ‘summer flowers’ popular across the northern hemisphere – from Vladivostok in Russia to sunny California in the USA – because they are famed for being long lasting petals.
The scale of the global flower market is large and increasing. In 2021 the global trade in flowers was worth around $49 Billion (Sh5 trillion), with stems ferried between continents at breath-taking speeds.
The flower industry in Kenya accounts to 1.3 percent of the GDP. It’s estimated that over 500,000 people depend on the floriculture industry with over 100,000 directly employed in flower farms across the country. The industry generated an average of Sh 157 billion annually in exports, with tourism (at Sh146.5 billion) as our second largest foreign exchange earner, ahead of tea in third place at Sh 126 billion in 2021.
The flower export industry in the East African Community is huge. Most of Kenya’s cut roses are shipped to Netherlands. Amsterdam city has been the center and heart of global trade of fresh cut flowers.
Incidentally, the world’s largest global action base for fresh cut flowers is Aalsmeer, that was once a pub district, and that sits like an outdoor flower vase just outside the city of Amsterdam. 70 percent of Kenya’s flowers end up in here in Holland, from whence the Dutch, (in)famous as the middle-men of everything, from jewels to petals, move on this East African earth grown product to the rest of the world.
While most flowers in Europe are imported and re-exported via Netherlands, new players are making their presence felt ever since the advent of e-commerce, shifting the dynamics of growing and exporting stems. With the advent of fast transport and digital technology, some players in sub-Sahara Africa are now vigorously challenging Netherland’s ancient traditional hold on the old flower industry in the world.
Leveraging on B2B/B2C innovative digital technology and payment gateways, one of them, AIB Petals Limited has become the “Uber” of flower export in Kenya - connecting growers and buyers from any corner of the world through their ecommerce platform.
James Lyomu, the Managing Director, explains passionately how clients can order various species of flowers from the website and what AIB Petals does consolidates the orders from different grower partners while ensuring quality is not compromised.
“The export delivery time is essentially reduced since this orders are sent directly to the partner farms for dispatch,” Lyomu explains.
“We have also setup state-of-the-art storage cold rooms directly and through partnerships across airports in Key markets to help manage quality assurance of the flowers. Our clients on the other hand can also track the status of their orders via the website. “
In essence, they do floricultural brokerage for a margin by levering on B2B & B2C digital technology to manage their supply chain and inventory, in real time, based on the Japanese model ‘Just-in-Time’ delivery.
Mr Lyomu also speaks of the muddle that Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine is, and the strain that it has put on the petal industry. “Russia and Ukraine are among the biggest buyers of flowers in the world,” James says. “You will find tonnes bought in Russia on Valentine’s Day, a boom in the Ukraine on Mother’s Day. But disruption always offers lots of opportunities for any industry, even at a time such as corona when some farms were being forced to dispose of up to half a million stems a day.”
Reagan Odhiambo, Head of Strategy & Innovation at AIB Petals, describes Covid-19 in 2020 as being the disruptor of the ‘global supply chain of most goods.’
“When logistics stop in one region, no goods can move. Consolidating fresh cut flowers from different growers in Kenya and Ethiopia has enabled us democratise the floriculture supply chain for our clients. No flower species are ever out of stock. Inventory is managed by growers directly from their farms and plugged into our ordering system. We have become a consolidating model and a quality assurance agent that ensures the clients (abroad) never again have to encounter the unpleasant phenomenon of having a stem that is out of stock. Quality is also consistently achieved at every stage of the supply chain. Leveraging on digital B2B ecommerce technology, we are able to track orders from clients and facilitate shipping remotely through our supply chain management systems.”
Ms. Linet Kingori, the Digital Marketing Manager, concurs that the digital age has blossomed in floriculture. “Most of our clients are sourced from digital channels. Our online ordering system and process is seamless and user friendly,” she explains, “so we are able to generate leads online and track customer experience through our social media and digital channels.”
The Operations Manager Victoria Mwiti cites KEPHIS (Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services), KFC (Kenya Flower Council) and KENTRADE, the one stop coordinating ‘shop’ as some of the regulators in Kenya’s floricultural industry, that ensure everything is top notch. “As a flower consolidator and exporter of the best of Kenya’s floral products,” she says, ‘I’m proud that all our growers are both globally Fair Trade and locally KFC certified, as well as engaging in the best environmental practices.”