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Out of Africa grows world’s flowers

Kenya is a country rich with diverse wildlife and spectacular beauty. It seems only fitting that Kenya is currently the fourth-largest exporter of fresh cut flowers. The book, Africa’s Competitiveness in the Global Economy Report 2018, puts Kenya’s flower industry among the leading players of the world’s floriculture industry, playing in the leagues of Netherlands, Colombia, Ecuador, and Ethiopia. According to the report, the most popular of the 110 varieties of flowers farmed in Kenya and exported to over 60 destinations globally, are roses (85.6 percent), carnations (2.5 percent), and alstroemeria (0.73 percent).

kenya2In Kenya, the flower industry has become an essential pillar of the Kenyan economy, after tourism, coffee, and tea.In Kenya, the flower industry has become an essential pillar of the Kenyan economy, after tourism, coffee, and tea. With a market share of 38 percent, Kenya is the lead exporter of roses to the European Union. Most flowers exported are grown around Lake Naivasha, Kenya. The Kenyan climate is perfect for producing a wide range of top-quality flowers. Because Kenya lies at the equator, there is direct sunlight for most of the year causing flower stems to grow straight naturally — a highly desirable feature in the flower market. There is also a lot of high-quality water for flower production, and the available workforce is educated, trained and most importantly, hardworking.

Kenya’s infrastructure is perfect for exports, as there is a good road network through which exporters access the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport — an easy access to European markets.

Most of Kanya’s flowers fly to Europe, Australia, and Japan. In recent years, the flower consumption in China has risen so fast that domestic supply has been unable to match the demand. The increasing consumption gives rise to the sales of high-quality imported flowers. Kenyan flowers, as medium and high-end varieties in China, have become the new favorites. The flower growers in Kenya are fully aware that China is an up-and-coming market. Direct flights from Nairobi to Guangzhou have been opened, which brings big rewards for flower trade in both countries.

The geographical advantage of Lake Naivasha in Kenya is suitable for growing roses. An estimated 1,200 hectares is under flower cultivation, with 70 percent allocated solely for roses. The rose is the most important flower that the United States continues to import from abroad. Although Ecuador and Colombia are the main suppliers of roses to the United States, Kenyan and Ethiopian imports are increasing rapidly.

With new direct flights from Kenya to the United States, that began last fall, the United States will have four rose-supplying countries from two continents. With better access to the U.S. market, Kenya’s flower industry has the potential to increase.  

Despite the growth and global competitiveness, the Kenyan flower industry has seen its challenges including drought, economic crises, political instability, high freight costs, and heavy rains. The sector of the Kenyan flower industry is already aligning its operations to link its competitiveness to environmental sustainability practices and social standards established in the European markets and other regions globally, as defined by three P’s — people, planet and profit.

When the rose makes its journey from the expansive growing regions in Kenya, Columbia or Ecuador to the many supermarkets and flower auctions in Europe, the United States and other parts of the world, it is perceived to be the flower of love. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, are you ready for their arrival?


Melissa Jones is an experienced mass market and e-commerce category buyer with over 15 years in the floriculture industry.