As the sun descends the horizon creating romantic shades of red and orange colors, Rajat Chaohan the General Manager Desire Flora has the chance to breathe in, rejuvenate, and refocus on the next day and the future of the farm. He is leading a compact team that is fast in taking actions and redefining issues, thus when Covid 19 struck they had already set their yearly projections by having a crop for the international women’s days.
While farms slowed down on production in a wait and see situation resulting in a decrease in flower production globally, the gods and the good weather conspired to the advantage of Desire Flora. “We had enough roses, so when the demand in the global market shot up we were able to supply good volumes, which was a boost to us. Because of the lockdown limiting hours of operations we had to adjust in adherence to curfew, in transportation of workers social distance had to be maintained thus the buses makes 8 trips instead of four,” Rajat explains some of the adjustments they had to make.
On the other hand, freight prices have gone up extremely high denting the hope of growers. The prices have risen to levels that growers only used to pay during peak seasons such as Valentine and International Women’s Day. “Freight charges are really eating up on grower’s revenues. Despite the fact that rose’s prices may be good and strong in the market, freight charge is taking a major share of the proceeds. Basically, the charges increased because there was extra volume to be shipped from Kenya and thus led for the airlines to hire a freighter and the charges of hiring a freighter irrespective of the season is the same,” he said.
With the virus ravaging the economies of world and most nations resorting to lockdowns, which has resulted in disruptions of supply chains, Desire Flora had to diversify its operations introducing other array of horticultural crops to supplement the decreased revenue from the sale of flowers. “We have a large tract of land, and we adopted to planting of cabbages, onions, tomatoes, capsicums among others basically to get a foothold in the local market and it has really been of help to keep us going,” Rajat says.
The soil in Kajiado is suitable for onion farming hence they have resorted to open field planting. In a year, they plant and harvest 3 times. “We have planted tomatoes and capsicum in greenhouses. To achieve this, we have our own propagation unit which we use to raise seedlings. Our aim is to produce 7 to 8 tonnes of tomatoes every week. We have buyers who purchase directly from us,” he stated.
The area under productions for the tomatoes is three quarter a hectare, capsicums half a hectare, onions and cabbages in rotation basis is a 12-acre open field. Trials and introduction of gherkins are currently ongoing at the farm. Gherkins are usually consumed in Europe; stored in vinegar and consumed as salad.
Flower farming remains the core business for Desire Flora. The farm’s best varieties are La Belle and Bella Rose due to their greater demand and acceptability in the market.
For an industry that continues to experience cut throat competition, adoption of innovation and technology is paramount. Desire Flora understands this very well and have kept abreast with innovations in producing quality roses that meet ‘Desire of Hearts Spoken by Roses’ which is their mantra.
The farm is presently cultivating 16 hectares of T-hybrid and intermediate roses; in modern greenhouses, using up-to-date irrigation and water management system, integrated pest management approach and efficient post-harvest system and management.
According to Rajat, with people working from home in Europe, buying flowers from online Flower Webshops is becoming more common. They are still weighing and gauging the tastes and preferences of the online customers. Apart from the normal supply of roses they also supply to their clients abroad, who are in business of making flower bouquets with roses of different colors, which he refers to as ‘rainbow bouquets’.
The farm grows 12 different rose varieties destined for export. As the days ahead looks erratic, strategic management, right decision making and team work is guiding them in expansion of their best performing varieties. The farm is also set to join direct market to absorb the impact brought about by Covid-19. They are MPS certified and they are in process of acquiring Global GAP, Fairtrade and ETI certifications.
Though the pandemic has been the biggest threat to Kenyan roses, Rajat advises growers to keep on producing since the situation will one day normalize and only the resilient will reap the benefit. “Let us remain resilient and committed to producing flowers; having roses under production throughout, whether in demand or not because right now nobody is able to rightly project tomorrow’s outcome.