Cuttings are catching up with flowers in Uganda

Uganda’s flower export has seen a slight drop in the past couple of years. However, as a cutting producing country, Uganda continues to maintain its importance. The Ugandan export value of cuttings has almost surpassed the export value of flowers.

By Arie-Frans Middelburg

The vast majority of Ugandan flowers is still being shipped to the Netherlands. According to Comtrade’s export and import figures, $27 million of Uganda’s total flower export of $29.8 million, was exported to the Netherlands.

Only one of the 14 Ugandan growers sells his flowers at the auction. To protect this grower’s privacy, FloraHolland can’t say anything about amounts and turnover of Ugandan flowers at the auction.

Direct sales
Juliet Musoke of the Uganda Flowers Exporters Association (UFEA) believes that the unpredictable auction prices motivated most farms to sell directly to wholesalers and retailers. “Direct sales is more predictable. Some companies have a year contract with a fixed price for their flowers. You can’t get that at the auction.”

The Ugandan flower export value of 29.8 million dollars in 2015 meant a decline. Two years earlier, they still reached an export value of 34.8 million dollars. The Ugandan flower production is thus going down. According to Musoke, the total production acreage amounts to around 250 ha. The largest company, Rosebud, has a 65-ha acreage.

Rose the largest
Rose is by far the most important export flower for Uganda. Out of the $29.8 million of flowers that was exported in 2015, $23 million consisted of roses.
Comtrade’s figures also show that Ugandan exports that don’t go via the Netherlands are slightly increasing.

The 2015 statistics mention South Africa for example; $1 million of flowers were shipped to his country last year. And direct exports to Russia are increasing as well. These amounted to a mere $302,000 in 2013, but this number went up to just under $830,000 last year. Exports to the United Kingdom on the other hand, are going down. Norway has been a regular buyer of Ugandan flowers for many years.

Strategic plan
The UFEA has allocated this year and the beginning of next year to develop a strategic plan for the Ugandan flower industry, explains Musoke. It will also give an overview of the sector’s threats and opportunities. Musoke lists a few of the threats. One of them is that Ugandan flowers aren’t getting very good prices in Europe. “During the last couple of years, the average prices remained the same, while growers’ costs went up.”

She adds that the requirements for the flowers have become stricter, both the phytosanitary and market-driven demands. “When products arrive in the EU, they have to go through some very strict inspections. The use of pesticides now has to be brought back to the minimum possible. Many growers have invested in eco-friendly products.”

Musoke also points out that competition in the East African region is quite stiff. Ethiopian growers grow the same varieties. The closure of a number of farms in Kenya could be good for Ugandan growers, she says. “It means new opportunities on the market.”

Despite their initial flower export increase from $10.5 million in 2001 to $34.8 million in 2013, Uganda hasn’t been able to keep up with Ethiopia and Kenya. Warm days, combined with warm nights, means that the country doesn’t produce the same heavy quality roses with large buds.

Good quality cuttings
However, Uganda’s constant climate does make it a very suitable location for the production of cuttings. The quality is good and production is high. The export value of cuttings was $13.6 million in 2002 and this had gone up to $29.7 million by last year.

The Ugandan export value of cuttings has thus almost surpassed their export value of flowers. Some of the companies based in Uganda, have their roots in the Netherlands: Wagagai, JP Cuttings, Xclusive Cuttings, Fiduga/ Dümmen Orange and Royal Van Zanten.

The most important destination for cuttings is the Netherlands, followed at a great distance by countries like Norway, China, Germany, Canada, Austria, South Africa, Spain and Italy.

Feico Smit, managing director at Royal van Zanten Uganda, believes that there’s a slight shift from Ethiopia to Uganda. In addition, the cutting producers in Uganda are expanding a little. Royal van Zanten produces cuttings for both cut and potted chrysanthemums, celosia, bouvardia and asters in Uganda. Musoke says that the Ugandan cutting production shows a stable growth, both in hectares and in volume.

Calmed down
By the way, things have calmed down in Uganda. That’s what Smitlast week. Things are now handled in the Netherlands; the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation has requested the Embassy in Uganda to investigate the recent events.

Royal van Zanten employees entered a greenhouse that had just been disinfected and a week later, other employees entered a different Royal van Zanten greenhouse and came into contact with the remains of two eco-friendly products and a chemical agent.

Smit has been very disappointed about the way the two incidents were handled by all sorts of organisations and the media. The incidents got totally blown out of proportion – the Ugandan floricultural industry was accused of sexual harassment and slavery.

Smit spoke with the union last week. “I asked them whether, during the 22 years that we have been here, there had ever been any reports of sexual harassment at our nurseries. And whether they had ever heard of us missing a single month’s payment. The union could only negate these things.”

Social impact
Smit also points out that last spring, someone from a NGO conducted a study into the social impact Royal van Zanten had on its environment in Uganda. ”The outcome was very positive, we were portrayed as a good employer. We offer childcare, special employee loans, hospitals and free medical care. It was very disappointing to see how the media jumped on top of these incidents. A police spokesperson whose negative statements were quoted in the media, had never even visited any of our farms.”

Smit acknowledges that the incidents shouldn’t have happened. “We followed up on them, in accordance with all protocols, to ensure that these things wouldn’t happen again. It’s a shame that, while we’re making a real effort, the story is completely taken out of context. During the past six weeks, I have been contacted via WhatsApp and phone calls, from 5.30 a.m. until 10 p.m. – completely outrageous. You can ask me anything about what it’s like to be put in a bad light by the media. I’ve become an expert by now.”

Potential lawsuit
Meanwhile, the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA) is still contemplating a lawsuit against Van Zanten, according to a spokesperson. “We’re waiting for the medical reports. There are still four people in hospital. And their symptoms are related to entering the disinfected area.”

A potential lawsuit would focus entirely on the employees’ health and safety, not on any other issues. Royal van Zanten states that all employees have been released from hospital and none of them is experiencing any long-term effects. All test results were negative, said Smit.