By Joshua Isaac

With an estimated worth of $900 million in export value annually and over two million people depending on it for livelihood, the flower industry is a critical pillar of the Kenyan economy.

However, flower’s vulnerability to diseases and pests and stringent exportation measures make floriculture a challenging activity for most flower dealers.

The European Union (EU) is the top importer of Kenyan cut flowers, accounting for over 35 percent of total imports. It has devised stringent measures to ensure flowers imported from non-member countries are grown sustainably, of high quality, and free from diseases.

Accordingly, Kenyan flower dealers are increasingly embracing sustainable and eco-friendly production practices such as ultraviolet (UV) technologies to preserve the quality of the flowers for exportation.

One of the UV technologies widely adopted in Kenya is the Ultraviolet Disinfection Tunnel (UVDT). Several flower dealers in the country use this technology to eliminate botrytis blight (molds that attack flowers) and other microorganisms from flower petals.

The Ultraviolet Disinfection Tunnel.

A trolley with flowers is put in the UVDT tunnel to purify them using the device. After some time, the device removes botrytis and other microorganisms from the flowers without leaving residual pollutants.

As evidenced by several companies, this technology has helped most dealers meet the phytosanitary requirements for exportation, including maintaining the quality of flowers.

UVDT is produced by UVRER ANEMO, a leading French-based manufacturer of UV technologies. The technology disinfects surfaces and fluids by deactivating microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses, by deactivating the organisms’ cells. When UV radiation penetrates an organism’s cell wall, it destroys the cell’s ability to reproduce, rendering it harmless without generating residual pollutants.

Julio Asencio, Export Sector Manager at UV RER ANEMO, explained to Science Africa that the technology offers a much-needed solution. According to him, the device is a better alternative to the traditional chemical fumigation technique and can disinfect over 500 flower stems per minute.

Asencio confirms that the device has been certified for use by the relevant regulatory bodies in the country. Since its introduction over ten years ago, several flower dealers, including Subati Flower, AAA Growers, Wildfire Flowers, and Rift Valley Roses, among others, have adopted the technology as the best alternative to chemical purifiers. As of 2024, it is estimated that over 10 flower companies have incorporated this technology into their processing.

“The device requires minimal handling as the system moves easily, takes up little space, and is easily integrated into the existing packaging line. It is perfectly adaptable to an existing conveyor,” he explained.

However, the device requires a high initial cost to purchase, import, and install. Without the importation and installation cost, the equipment can cost anywhere between $150 and $20,000.

In Kenya, the phytosanitary certification for exportation is issued by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS). KEPHIS also merits active growth inspections of plants destined for export before issuance of the certificate.

On various occasions, KEPHIS inspectors make impromptu visits to commercial growers and farmers of various horticultural crops during the active growing period. They ensure compliance with the phytosanitary requirements of the importing country.

KEPHIS assesses the plant’s freedom from pests and pest damage, compliance with maximum residue levels, and absence of physiological disorders. It is properly graded in terms of size, color, shape, and moisture levels, among other aspects.

During a recent international flower exhibition in Nairobi, Kenya, Simon Maina, Head of the Seed Certification and Plant Variety Protection Department at KEPHIS, observed that flower farmers in Kenya are also grappling with the climate crisis, which has led to the emergence of pests that were not traditionally on Kenyan flower farms.

Thus, he adds that KEPHIS supports farmers through various initiatives to deal with climate change challenges, including training flower growers to identify and keep away emerging pests.