|Harambee Pulling Together for Kenya (KARI, 32 p.)|
Elizabeth Thande has her entire farm in flower production. She markets her flowers directly through auctions in Holland.
Mrs. Thande works with KARI researchers at the Tigoni Center to ensure that she grows high quality blossoms.
In Kenya, growing flowers for sale has long been associated with large-scale farms with strong international connections. That correlation is changing rapidly as more small-scale farmers learn that growing flowers can be a profitable venture for them, too.
Lucy Wainana who has a 2.5-hectare farm about 55 kilometers (33 miles) from Nairobi, is one of the smallest flower growers in her area. "I work full-time on this farm and grow about three acres of flowers," she said.
Mrs. Wainana has worked closely with John Njenga, a floriculture specialist from KARI, stationed at the research center at Tigoni. USAID supported Njenga's training in floriculture at North Carolina State University.
Mrs. Wainana says she is fortunate in that she lives only about a half-hour's walk from the research center. The mother of five children, she sells her flowers, including lilies, gladioli, alstroemeria and other blooms through a pool of exporters who ship to a flower auction in Holland. The local market is also expanding, and a stem of gladiolus sells there for between Ksh 10 and 15 ($.20 to $.30).
Besides flowers, Mrs. Wainana grows cabbages, tomatoes, kale, and maize for home use and for sale. She estimates her monthly income to be about Ksh 10,000 (US $200), about the same as that of a typical high school teacher in Kenya.
Mrs. Wainana employs 10 people, mostly from her neighborhood. There is much handwork in planting, weeding, and harvesting. Her eldest child just graduated from a university, two are still college students, and two others are in high school.
A considerably larger flower farm is that of Elizabeth Thande who has her entire farm of 14 hectares in flower production. She, too, works closely with KARI researchers, both at the Tigoni Center and at KARI headquarters in Nairobi, to learn how to grow the highest quality blossoms.
Mrs. Thande is growing some gladioli corms that came from an original lot of 200,000 corms brought by USAID from the United States to Kenya. KARI grew the corms for use in research and for distribution to growers. This shipment of corms became the foundation for a major new flower product in Kenya.
Mrs. Thande markets her flowers directly through auctions in Holland. "We are exploring chances of direct marketing to the Middle East and North America," she said. The energetic businesswoman has traveled widely to learn more about the flower business: to Holland, Central America, the United States, Israel, and France.
KARI helped train many of the people who now work at the Oserian Tissue Culture Lab, helped plan the lab and acquire the needed materials. Now KARI shares in the proceeds from exports of flowers developed through tissue culture at the lab.
She has 30 permanent employees but employs up to 150 workers during certain periods. The workers earn between Ksh 4,000 and 7,000 a month ($80 to $140). She is now contracting with some small-scale farmers to market their flowers.
Mrs. Thande says her husband has helped keep the business going. They have improved their water supply with a bore-hole and have expanded the shade houses and netting. The flower business has enabled the family to educate their four children.
The oldest and largest flower growing firms in Kenya are located around Lake Naivasha. The area has an excellent climate for growing flowers, with warm days, cool nights and adequate water.
One of the larger firms is Oserian Development Co. Ltd. It exports some 250 million stems a year through markets in Holland and England.
It is the world's largest grower of statice, a flower in great demand for floral arrangements. It has 200 hectares (450 acres) of land in flower production, with 5,600 employees.
In 1993, Oserian decided to establish its own tissue culture laboratory, believing it could reduce costs even though considerable investment was required. It now believes it has cut these costs by a third from what it cost to import similar planting materials, and it has considerable extra capacity to do contract work for other firms.
KARI already had such a lab, where some Oserian workers were trained before the Oserian facility was set up. KARI scientists helped to plan the company's lab and helped it obtain the needed materials. Now, KARI shares in the proceeds from Oserian's exports of flowers developed through tissue culture.
The original eight Oserian employees trained to be cutters are now training new employees. About 90 technicians now work in the tissue culture lab, about 50 of whom cut the plants into the sections used in growing mediums.
Sally Van Waardt, laboratory manager, says tissue culture provides uniformity and consistency when selecting for disease and nematode resistance, stem length, high yield, color, and other desirable characteristics. Tissue culture also provides for rapid multiplication of desirable plants.
The technical advice KARI supplied to Oserian is a good example of how a public research institution can help private industry adopt new technology, reduce costs and prepare for business expansion.
Oserian paid a fee to KARI for the work, thus providing some income to the research institution.
Oserian officials are enthusiastic about their workers, and the company has a small turnover. About 75 percent of the labor force was permanent by mid-1997, and Oserian hoped to get to a totally permanent work force in 1998. Workers receive benefits of housing, schools, and medical care.
Some believe flower production has great potential for growth in Kenya. Kenya's share of cut-flower sales in Amsterdam increased from 17 percent in 1993 to 28 percent in 1996. Cut flower exports increased by 20 percent from 1995 to 1996.