By Isabella Njeri

Kenya’s floriculture sector has grown significantly over the past decade, with over two million people depending on it for livelihoods. However, the sector’s sustainability has come under tremendous threats linked to the impacts of climate change.

Adverse weather events, emerging diseases and pests attributed to climate change, and increased frequency of destructive winds posing a risk to greenhouse structures are some of the unprecedented challenges that have tested the resilience spirit of the flower farmers in Kenya.

Dr. Idris Dokota, Kenya’s Principal Secretary, State Department of Cabinet Affairs addresses the press at the IFTEX 2024 event in Nairobi, Kenya.

Speaking to journalists at the ongoing 11th edition of the International Floriculture Trade Exhibition (IFTEX 2024) in Nairobi, Kenya, Dr. Idris Dokota, Kenya’s Principal Secretary, State Department of Cabinet Affairs, said the event’s sustainability theme resonates with the country’s promotion of green economy, that includes the need to adopt renewable energy sources to minimize the carbon footprint of the flower industry and mitigate climate change in line its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

“The flower industry is growing massively. However, the biggest challenge, especially in Kenya, is climate change. It is a big issue in Kenya and countries where flowers are being consumed.  Climate change is a real issue, and Kenya has done a great thing to get rid of plastic bags, which we expect to have a positive impact going into the future,” said Van Ramsdens, Chief Executive Officer of HPP International Exhibition Group, the organizers of the IFTEX 2024 event.

The IFTEX 2024 event, a global platform, has attracted representatives from 75 countries. It serves as a testament to the collective effort to promote sustainable and environment-friendly practices in the flower industry, transcending borders and uniting stakeholders.

“With the issue of climate change, we are seeing pests that were not traditionally on our flowers, including False Coding Moth (FCM), which is affecting flowers in various places,” noted Simon Maina, Head of Seed Certification and Plant Variety Protection Department at the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).

Maina says KEPHIS supports farmers through various initiatives to deal with climate change challenges, including training flower growers to identify and keep away emerging pests such as FCM. KEPHIS has also certified over 40 climate-smart seed varieties, some of which are flower seeds, for the industry. The seeds are tolerant to extreme weather conditions, pests, and diseases.

In response to the challenges, Kenyan flower farmers are demonstrating resilience by adopting innovative strategies and technologies, including climate-smart seeds approved by KEPHIS to curb the impacts of climate change and boost productivity.

For instance, Primarosa Flowers Ltd has incorporated sustainable production practices, including planting trees around farms and cultivating grass to combat soil erosion and mitigate the impact of destructive winds on greenhouse infrastructure.

It has also embraced technology, such as drought—drip irrigation systems, to minimize overreliance on external weather patterns, harness solar power, harvest rainwater, and compost discarded flowers into manure.

“Sustainable practices are a big part of our appeal, and they have opened major exports worldwide for us. We export 80 percent of our flowers to the Middle East (80 percent) and the remaining 20% to Europe, Australia, and Africa,” Jay Hirani from Primarosa Flowers Ltd in Kenya said.

Kenya is the third-largest grower of cut flowers in the world, after Ecuador and Colombia.  It is also the leading flower grower and exporter in Africa, beating other producers such as Ethiopia and Tanzania.

The floriculture sector is a strong pillar of the country’s economy. According to the Kenya Flower Council data, the industry accounts for about 1.3% of Kenya’s gross domestic product. Flower cultivation occupies around 5,000 hectares, generating over 200,000 tonnes of flowers worth $900 million in exports annually.