25 years of pure freshness and great quality rose production

By Steven Mulanda

Being in existence for 25 years, producing spectacular roses and winning the 2020 Fairtrade International Award, is no mean feat for Valentine Growers. It is an embodiment of hard work, burning of midnight oil that has translated to creation of an agricultural marvel that is recognized globally. A visit to the farm, we are welcomed by green scenery, ambiance of fresh air, magnificent greenhouses and meticulous employees, a prove that this is one of Kenya’s best tropical rose farm.

The farm was started in 1996 at Karura, but in 2009 relocated to its current location which was then a coffee farm, to pave way for real estate. They started with 27 hectares of wooden greenhouses, as it was the case with most farms that began in the 90s. After about 10 years they transformed into steel greenhouses, which are advantageous in terms of easy management and maintenance, pest and disease management and the yield is more.

Situated in the outskirts of Kiambu town at Kibubuti, their name ‘Valentine’ was coined by bright founders for being involved in flower production, though it doesn’t have a direct correlation with Valentine Day.

Currently the farm is 18.5 hectares big, is part of 1000 hectares’ tea farm, and has an annual production of 28 to 30 million stems of assorted colors roses. Their main market is Europe, UK, Australia and Russia. They have acquired certifications in Fairtrade, MPS on A standard, Kenya Flower Council (Silver certificate)-GLOBAL GAP/GRASP, and SEDEX.

“From start to finish our customer requirements are our main focus, at the core of our business is customer eccentricity. What we grow is more driven by the customer, unlike growing and start marketing. Whenever we want to start expansion or grow a new variety we have to talk with clients and ask them of their opinion; we let them tell us what they want. We deliver great floral products in a great way ensuring that our client’s needs and expectations are surpassed. We have an excellent team that handle both technical and non-technical issues, overseeing all areas of plants management and disease control. All our greenhouse staff are trained on scouting to detect diseases and pests at the earliest stages to minimize chemical use. Post-harvest treatment, pre-cooling, grading and packing are implemented by a well experienced staff who ensure that only flowers of required specification and quality reach our customers,” Jorum Kanyua, the Head of Sales and Marketing explained.

For 2022 Valentine Day’s preparations, the farm closed booking in October and they are working around the clock to ensure the orders and quality expected are met. “This year has been one of the best especially 1st half which was better than 2020 Valentine in terms of sales and we foresee even a much better 2022. Covid had its pros and cons; the sale of flowers went up and there was no low season last year and only went down a bit during 2nd lockdown in November-December, this could have been because people never went for holidays and they remained indoors,” explained Jorum.

“With changing of the market and our customer preferences, we have shifted from old varieties to new varieties. There has been a new modernization of varieties in the flower market and currently we are growing 19 of new varieties. We have agglomeration of different colors; white, yellow, red, pink, cerise, bi Pink, Bi orange and orange varieties. We grow the reds in large areas because in the markets, reds carry higher percentage in the assortments,” said Joseph Kariuki in charge of production.

The company has rolled out a massive sensitization of their employees on continuous monitoring of pests and diseases, right from the greenhouses to the pack house to ensure each flower is checked before is passed to packaging. “When False Colding Moth (FCM) was made a quarantine pest, it became a big challenge to us and the whole industry. We undertook several measures to be compliant with KEPHIS standards as well as the global market requirements. We are mostly using cultural methods, we have put nets around the greenhouses to act as a buffer zone to avoid all moths entering into greenhouses, this way we have been able to at least control 95%,” the production manager explained .

Some of agrochemicals that have been in place for control of major pests and diseases have been recently phased out. Growers are hoping that other alternative chemicals will soon be recommended for use.
The farm being Fairtrade certified gives more benefits to their 393 workers thus they have a happy workforce which is more productive and a low turnover. They carry out various projects to improve the living standard of the employees, their families and the community, for example they pay school fees for them, give them small loans and home improvement facilitation.

In terms of machinery and innovation, they are growing half of their roses on soil, while the other half is on hydroponics. They have transformed from the manual systems to modern centralized systems of irrigation, fertigation and spaying, to ensure judicious use of water while reducing on the cost of fertilizers.

The future of the flower industry is bright. “The disposable income is on upward trajectory because middle income earners are increasing as economies of the world grow. There is also a trend being witnessed of big companies buying smaller companies which boosts their muscles of negotiating with flower buyers in Europe.
There will always be bottlenecks to be addressed, for instance transportation challenges; there are limited freights, ships, and containers. That notwithstanding, the industry has a very bright future,” Kanyua added.

Valentine Growers is the 2020 International Fairtrade Awards winner in the Hired Labour Organization category, becoming the first company to ever win the award in Kenya and Africa.
For a company to win in this category, it has to be Fairtrade certified which they did in 2006 and has to demonstrate that it is improving the lives of its employees as well as the surrounding communities.

First on fair tade checklist is Sectoral Decarbonization Approach (SDA); where they evaluate how a company protects its workers from climate change. At Valentine Growers, they don’t use locomotives to transport flowers from greenhouses to the pack house instead they use carts and donkeys.

“Fairtrade means that as a company carries out its obligation, it doesn’t negatively affect the surrounding community but instead they should benefit them. In this regard, we have constructed dams that are used by the community, we have put in place a natural water treatment wetland which treats all waste water from the farm so that it does not contaminate the catchment areas. In addition, as we sell our flowers as Fairtrade we get 10% premium, which we manage well to benefit the workers, and Fairtrade audits to establish if actually the money is utilized well,” said Dennis Gakuru.

Dennis Gakuru is the Fair Trade Officer (FTO) at Valentine Growers; he is the man in charge of the premiums. They have been carrying out successful projects within the company and around the community. “We have a flagship project, that is the construction of Kaspat Dispensary, fully funded by Valentine Fairtrade Group then handed over to the government for doctors and management. It has a pharmacy we constructed, provided computers and we are looking on ways to construct a maternity wing. We budget for the dispensary, not less than Ksh250,000 per year, give sponsorship to schools, support children’s homes, constructs schools around, give desks, chairs, and also providing water connectivity to the community around.

For workers’ project, we give bursary, we sponsor the schooling of their children and even pay university fees for the children who perform exemplary well, we give bursary for workers to further their education, we give loans, buy household items, provide cooking gas at subsidized price to be deducted from their salary. We also have a nursery school for the community and the workers,” Dennis explained.

The FTO is in charge of a committee which co-ordinates the implementation of the activities, and consists of a human resource person, an internal auditor and representatives of workers from every department. “It’s my job to make sure everything is done according to the Fairtrade Standards; everything should comply with the rules and regulations set. I make sure that the premium is put to good use and there is no misuse of the funds. When you are leading a team, and you hear them talking about the positive impact in their lives, you feel proud of yourself and you are proud of Fairtrade,” he said.

“Socially, we can give ourselves 98 percent, because we try to make the working environment conducive and comfortable. We have a CBA that guides the management and the workers. To gauge if everything is well, we do annual turnover and at the end of the day we find only 2 or 3 employees leaving, a clear indication that they are happy and comfortable to work for the company. We have things like company clinic that is fully equipped to cater for the whole workforce together with their next of kin and their families that are living within; because we provide houses within the farm. We have a crèche where mothers from maternity need not to hustle where to take their young ones, but they can leave them with a caregiver and they are given time for breastfeeding. When they do work overtime we pay them accordingly, “says Joan Mutisya the head of Human Resource Department.

Fairtrade is a win -win for both the workers and the company. “From the marketing perspective, Fairtrade opens opportunities which would be otherwise not possible to access. It helps us promote our products better, because the market is already there, “Jorum Kanyua says.

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