By Bob Koigi
For seventeen years, Bigot Flowers Kenya, a scion of the France flower powerhouse Groupe Bigot Fleurs, as built a floriculture business driven by quality, consistency and loyalty to its customers. Jagtap KT the company’s General Manager talked exclusively to HortFresh about the journey so far, the building blocks that have seen the Naivasha-based flower farm grow to export up to 78 million roses, the 1100 workers that have shaped the farm’s growth and what the future holds.
Congratulations on your seventeen birthday. Quite a landmark achievement. What has the journey been like since you delved into the business of flower growing?
I would say quite challenging and at the same time proud that we have made these successful strides. We started with 40 hectares out of which 12 hectares were modern greenhouses which are desirable for Growing flowers, 20 hectares were Spanish greenhouses which had a lot challenges with pest and disease control and 8 hectares were tunnels which are meant for growing vegetables. To date we have expanded to 53 hectares with highly modified modern greenhouses. We started by exporting 40 to 42 million stems per year and we are currently exporting 75 to 78 million stems per year. Our workforce has
grown to 1100 workers.
In the seventeen years that you have been in the flower business, what philosophy drives Bigot Flowers?
Quality, Consistency and Loyalty to our customers.
Bigot Flowers is among the first flower farms to have set up shop in the vibrant Flower Business Park, what informed this choice and how is it growing roses in this location?
Naivasha is a flower hub and has the best climate for growing flowers. The nights are not very cold and the days not very hot giving us quality flowers. Rainfall is well distributed with 750 to 800mm per year, with 1900 altitude above the sea level. It is also ideal due to its close proximity to the airport which is 90km and the labour is easily available from the local community.
How are you finding the cost of doing business in the country?
The cost of growing flowers is going up day by day in terms of inputs; fertilizers, chemicals, packaging among others. Then there is huge competition in the market from other producers in neighboring countries like Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania.
What are some of the innovations that you have introduced across the production chain and how are they impacting on your business?
Modified greenhouses have led to reduced pests and diseases hence bringing down the cost of chemicals. There is a centralized spray system that has reduced chemical quantities significantly. 1-ligh-tech fertigation machine has reduced fertilizer usages. We are harvesting rain and surface water. The dam has a capacity of 120.000 cubic meters, 65% of annual water usage in the farm is from the rain water. We have introduced use integrated pest management. We produce phytoseilus in the farm leading to less use of chemicals. We are rearing cows and sheep in the farm. We use cow dung and sheep waste (jivamrut). We have RO machine which processes water for post-harvest.
How has the market been for your flowers?
Our main focus is the European market because Bigot Flowers is a French owned company. We are completely into direct sales with between 60 to 70 percent of our flowers being supplied to the French market. The rest of the flowers go to Switzerland, Germany and UK. Over the years, we have had to adapt to market changes since customers preferences have been changing. For example some customers prefer big head flowers, what we call tea hybrid, but the market there is very limited. In our business we predominantly concentrate on intermediate varieties but there is considerable competition from countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda.
How have you positioned your business to respond to these market dynamics?
Initially we were fully focusing on intermediate varieties, from 3.8 to 4.5 centimeters head size. In 2017 we decided to replace part of our intermediate flowers with tea hybrid, and spray roses to sate these market demands. We have also started mixing bouquets in our farm and shipping them as complete packages in our export markets as this seems to excite the markets.
Talk to us about the sustainable business practices that your farm has embraced?
First of all we have been Faitrade certified for 11 years which has given us a competitive edge in the global markets while positioning us as a responsible and ethical grower and exporter. We have also received highly acclaimed certifications including the MPS-ABC, SQ and ETI for our fervent commitment to environmental protection, employee welfare and corporate social responsibility. Our giving-back programmes span education, health and capacity building. Together with the other flower farms in Naivasha, we were also involved in funding the Friends of Naivasha Hospital until it was taken over by the county government. We runs various free medical camps in Naivasha. Under education, up to 420 students in secondary schools and tertiary institutions have benefitted from our bursary scheme where we pay 90 per cent of their fees. We also run mentorship programmes where those in institutions of higher learning are paired with those in secondary or primary schools for motivation.
You have elaborate projects targeting your staff. What has informed this unique focus and what exactly are you doing for your workers?
We strongly believe that our workers are the backbone of our business and therefore deserve to be treated as a family for the prosperity of the farm. We appreciate how hard they work and have always felt that we need to walk with them in their journey as part of the Bigot Flowers fraternity. Their health and wellbeing is of paramount importance to us so we carry out screenings every three months to ensure that those who handle chemicals are not affected by life threatening ailments. We also have NHIF cover for all our employees. On education, we run a policy of encouraging our employees to upgrade their skills which has been quite beneficial to our farm. Our employees go to classes on part-time basis. Our Packhouse Manager Josephine Mwikali who has been the poster girl for this noble initiative has beenwith us for 12 years moving from a general worker when she was in Form Four to having attaining a degree. We equally buy our staff equipment, for any ventures that they might want to pursue part time for example salons. We respect their human rights and have allowed them to join any labour union of their choice because we respect labour laws, both local and international.
Going forward, where do you see Bigot flowers, and how is the future of the flowers industry in Kenya?
We want to be the best farm in Kenya.The future of the flower industry in Kenya is bright, there is excellent climate, resources like land are available and labour is available. We have the potential to grow