Roses from Kenya: how to reconcile intensive production and sustainable agriculture?

National code of good practices, water saving measures, restrictions on the use of chemicals... The Kenyan horticultural sector is trying to "green" its image - and its practices! -  to adapt to the new global dynamics of the highly competitive cut rose market.

Kenyan horticulture in figures

Kenya has 2,150 flower farms (150 large farms, including about 60 around Lake Naivasha, and 2,000 small producers). They represent 3,700 hectares of greenhouses and 60% of the flowers produced are roses. The first Dutch people to settle here in the late 1970s made no mistake about it, as local weather conditions are similar all year round in Europe in summer: it is hot during the day (30°C), cool at night (13°C) and this temperature difference is good for roses. Proof of this growth is the fact that 500,000 people now work in floriculture, 90,000 of whom work directly on farms. In total, this sector supports 2 million Kenyans.

The value of Kenya's flower exports each year is $500 million, the country's third largest source of foreign exchange after tourism and tea. Horticulture as a whole generates $1 billion a year. 36% of the European Union's flower imports come from Kenya, followed by Ecuador (15%), Ethiopia (15%) and Colombia (12%)

Naivasha, in the heart of the Valley of Roses

One third of Kenya's production is concentrated around a single location: Lake Naivasha, a magnificent 150 km2 stretch of water, bordered by volcanoes at an altitude of 1,900 metres on the Kenyan highlands, is the freshwater reservoir for irrigation. Hippos, flamingos, pelicans and cormorants share its shores with endless rows of green and white greenhouses.

Kenyan rosiculture, a prosperous and controversial sector

However, over the past decade or so, this thriving sector has found itself at the heart of a controversy. The exploitation or even intoxication of employees, the massive use of pesticides or the waste of water have been regularly denounced by the foreign media.

The health risks faced by female workers working in Kenyan greenhouses amidst pesticides and other chemicals were real: skin disease, fetal malformation. To this must be added the dramatic pollution of the lake and rivers by effluent water.

Economic risk also exists, always in connection with the crucial issue of water scarcity. Rainwater harvesting or wastewater recycling is expensive and increases production costs, at a time when an emerging middle class is demanding a tax redistribution. Hence the competition with Ethiopia: despite insufficient manpower and infrastructure, Ethiopia has more water, less taxes, and is closer to Dubai, the future flower trade hub.

The ecological constraints imposed by the world market (supermarkets, fairtrade) encourage the largest greenhouses linked by contract to protective measures that are still to be developed.

In search of sustainable solutions to restore the image of the rosicultural sector

Aware of the importance of their brand image in relation to their competitors, Kenyan producers, gathered within the KFC (Kenya Flower Council), have thus undertaken to green the sector. The 124 KFC member farms have adopted a code of good practices to ensure the export of flowers grown in a way that is responsible for both the environment and employees.

Concrete and simple protective measures are taken: banning certain chemicals, banning entry into greenhouses before 2 to 6 hours after spreading the products. Another initiative: a water allocation plan has also been put in place by the government, which grants permits and requires a reduction in the quantities pumped if the lake level falls: many signs installed on the banks now indicate, to the nearest centimetre, the lake level.

Finally, in the arsenal of good practices, the selection of varieties that are more tolerant to diseases makes it possible to reduce the number of chemical interventions naturally and very significantly. Among them, "spray" Roses are relatively small flowers, which bloom in large numbers on a branch - they can have up to a dozen pieces. A source of diversification and commercial differentiation, one of their best assets is their much higher than average disease resistance.

Finally, rose growers are involved in research and evaluation of alternative techniques to the "all-chemical", such as stimulating the natural defences of plants against cryptogamic diseases.
Let us bet that the Kenyan sector, which has taken into account the social and environmental challenges, will be able to confirm and strengthen its shift towards sustainable agriculture.

Are you looking for sustainable solutions to reduce the environmental impact of rose farms? Do not hesitate to contact our experts for more information!

-    Eurostat
- IN KENYA, THE SPINE ROSES OF THE SAINT-VALENTINE - Based on an interview with Bernard CALAS, former director of IFRA (Institut français de recherche en Afrique) in Nairobi from 2007 to 2010. (Les Cafés Géo:


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