(File photo) Flowers are exhibited during the fifth edition of International Floriculture Trade Expo in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 9, 2016. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)
by Ronald Njoroge and Wang Xiaopeng
NAIROBI, Sept. 18 (Xinhua) -- Kenya's flower industry has tapped into the growing Chinese market in order to boost earnings of the sector, as part of the country's effort to diversify its markets of exporting.
The expanding Chinese economy has created demand for high quality flowers, Kenya Flower Council (KFC) CEO Jane Ngige told Xinhua in an interviews before and during the two-day Naivasha Horticultural Fair, one of the biggest events of the kind in Africa, which concluded on Saturday.
"Chinese consumers are willing to pay a premium price for high quality flowers. We therefore want to tap into the high value flower segment of Chinese market in order enhance our farmers earnings," Ngige said, adding that to meet the demand, the industry is seeking to move up the flower value chain amid rising costs of production.
Most of Kenyan flower exports reach the Asian nation via the Netherlands-based flower auctions, said Ngige, stressing that a number of Kenyan flower firms do send flowers directly to China but in limited quantities.
Kevin Liu is one of a few Chinese businessmen who specializes in exporting Kenyan flowers to China directly. He told Xinhua in an interview at the fair on Friday that his company, Kevin International, exported only 40 tonnes of flowers to China in 2015 when the business was initiated. In the following year, the sales had increased to 320 tonnes, most of which were roses.
Accoring to Liu, the future for Kenyan flowers in China is bright. Ngige also has confidence. She said the Kenyan flowers can be competitive in the Chinese market due to factors including the presence of direct air links between the two countries, though logistics remains a challenge for businesses due to the need to balance inward and outward cargo.
"The flower sector is holding discussions with airlines to come up with best arrangement that will ensure maximum revenue," Ngige said.
Kenya flower industry is producing a relatively stable volume in recent years. Last year, the East African nation exported approximately 133,000 tonnes of flowers, the bulk of which was absorbed by the European Union member states, according to the website of the KFC, which did not provide figures on export to each markets.
According to the ministry of agriculture, the flower sector earned Kenya about 690 million U.S. dollars in 2016, making it one of the leading sources of foreign exchange.
"Kenya produces world class flowers that compete globally due to its geographic location along the equator that has sunshine throughout the year as well as favorable soils," she said.
"In addition, Kenya's location allows it to export flowers seamlessly to all regions of the world," the KFC CEO said. Kenya is among four countries in the world that can produce high quality roses.
Ngige added that increased sales to China will help the industry diversify its export markets. "Currently the industry is very vulnerable as most of its produce is sold to a single economic bloc," she added.
Ngige said that there is urgent need for Kenya to find new markets due to increasing competition in the flower business, noting that Kenya's success in the flower industry has motivated other African nations to enter into the sector.
"In the past decade, we have seen the emergence of Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania as flower exporters," she said.