Dreary Mother’s Day for Kenya Flower Farms on Freight Shortage

Kenyan flower growers are grappling with airfreight constraints and virus-control measures, which threaten to wilt sales for Mother’s Day in key European markets.

Weekly freight demand averages 4,200 tons ahead of Mothers’ Day, yet available freight capacity currently is 3,500 tons, according to Clement Tulezi, Kenya Flower Council‘s chief executive officer.

Mother’s Day is Kenya’s second-highest peak season, accounting for about a quarter of annual sales, the head of the flower growers lobby said Thursday by phone. Valentine’s Day makes up about 40% of annual bloom sales, he said.

“Prices are good. We expect good Mother’s Day sales,” Tulezi said. “However, there is reduction of belly space due to fewer passenger flights.”

Freight costs are steady at about $2.20 per kilogram from the start of 2021, from a high of $5.20 during last year’s lockdowns, Tulezi said. But that’s still above the average of $1.50 a kilogram before the pandemic.

Farm exports, led by tea and cut flowers, are the Kenya’s biggest foreign-exchange earner after remittances and the industry is the nation’s biggest employer.

Better Outlook

Passenger flights between Kenya and the U.K. were suspended in April after East Africa’s biggest economy was added to the “red list.” Direct shipments to the U.K., which accounts for 9% of sales, are now restricted to cargo freighters, according to Tulezi.

Flower sales in 2021 are likely to match last years after a “fairly good Valentine’s” marked by higher prices, Tulezi said. While flower exports by volume declined 9.3% last year, the value of shipments increased to 108 billion shillings ($1.01 billion) from 104 billion in 2019.

“We expect to do a little bit more than 2020 if the outlook improves,” he said. The spread of a variant of Covid-19 first discovered in India may result in a fresh wave of lockdowns in Europe that could hurt flower sales, Tulezi said.

Kenya, Europe’s biggest supplier of blooms, exports about 70% of its fresh flowers to Amsterdam, which then ships to major markets including Germany, U.K., Russia, Australia, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

“The outlook is quite good at the moment,” and sales are “even better than 2019,” according to Michel van Schie, spokesman for Royal FloraHolland, which operates three international auctions in the Netherlands.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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