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Kenya must tighten its belt

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It doesn’t seem that long ago that I said to someone there’s room for 10,000 ha of roses in Kenya. It’s a few years later now and I was recently telling a supplier how Ethiopia and Kenya should lose 1,000 ha of roses. We never reached that 10,000 ha in Kenya. In fact, we never got any further than 3,000. Ethiopia never got more than 1,500 ha. Intertoys isn’t the only one struggling; Kenyan rose growers are feeling the pressure too.

We’re facing low prices, high freight costs, a weak euro and a high production this year. All these aspects have a negative impact on our profitability. The Kenyan rose industry is 30 years old and there have been some bumps on the way, but we could always count on our suppliers, the breeders and propagators, to help us when times were hard.

They would happily extend their payment periods from 30 to 180 days, even up to 365 days if there was no other way. But that flexibility has come to an end, the payment terms have reached their limits, we’re asked to pay in advance now. And this is of course the only way to repair the industry, because we had created a situation where the loyal payers were financing the defaulters.

A difference between Kenya and the Netherlands is that rose growers in Kenya hardly ever go bankrupt, as they usually have an additional source of income. The real difference, however, is that in Kenya, the biggest costs aren’t made until the flowers are packaged.

So, by not sending large quantities, holding off on replanting, using less water and fertiliser and not spraying on a weekly basis, we can hold out for quite some time. Waiting for better days. It might require some patience, as it can take several years for things to pick up again.

And from time to time, we do wonder of course, whether we’ll end up like the carnation and limonium growers. Once the largest crops in Kenya, there’s hardly any left these days. Hopefully, rose has a bigger influence on our modern consumer. My bank manager sometimes says to me: “How much longer is the rose industry going to thrive?”

He knows what happened to carnation. My answer is always the same: “If there was only 100 ha of roses left in the entire world, they’d be grown at my nursery in Timau.” So, let’s tighten our belt, invest, get rid of some old varieties and meet the new season confidently with a wide range of beautiful, new products!

Simon van der Burg,

Rose grower Timaflor, Kenya

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