Equator Flowers: Investing inquality, Embracing sustainability 25 years on

Equator Flowers: Investing inquality, Embracing sustainability 25 years on

Twenty five years since setting shop in Kenya, Equator Flowers has diversified its flower portfolio, expanded its operations, grown its export footprint and become a force to reckon with in the floriculture industry.

Having been established under the management of Mr. Mark Lurkhust who was the farm manager, in 1997 the farm’s initial operation was construction of buildings which included offices, grading hall, canteen and the first phase of greenhouses.

Embracing quality, expanding market portfolio

Located on the idyllic outskirts of Eldoret town, Equator Flowers grows roses in greenhouses spanning over 40 hectares at an altitude of 2,200m above sea level, giving rise to high quality T-Hybrid roses and spray roses. It has an annual production capacity of about 30 million stems of assorted colours and 50 varieties the flowers which are exported to key export destinations including Holland, Germany, UK, France, Switzerland, Scandinavian Countries, USA, Middle East, & the Far East.

Equator Flowers has metamorphosed into a flower behemoth and is part of a group of farms under Sian flowers brand. Its farms include Massai Flowers located in Kitengela, Agriflora in Nakuru, Equator and Sololo Flowers both located in Eldoret.

Guided by the philosophy of being the leading producer of high quality flowers in East Africa and anchored on the principles of quality brand, reliability, creativity and customer service, the firm has invested in the highest standards of flower production.

It subscribes to global labels such as Fair trade, MPS- ABC, MPS- SQ and KFC to enhance its credible social responsibility through fair play.

“The world flower industry is a highly dynamic industry. Product varieties, production techniques and retailing arrangements are all undergoing continuous change. A number of trends are having a significant influence on the flower industry for example the increasing importance of quality products and the need to invest more capital to achieve this,” said Nehemiah Kangogo the General Manager at Equator Flowers.

Production process: From farm to market

To bolster quality and enhance smooth processes from variety selection, to growing, post-harvest treatment, sales and the after sales service, the company has embraced a host of innovations and sustainable business practices.

The whole farm operates on 100% hydroponics and hence recycles 100% of its ferti-irrigation solution. This recycling process helps the company to reduce more than 30% of its water usage and fertilizer costs. To ensure that the water coming back is clean and pure the recycled water is passed through multiple filtration and sterilization system. No fertilizer is discharged at all to the environment;

The company’s highly skilled and professional team have established a modern and efficient crop management system and first-class controls within both the fields and the grading hall. Roses are harvested two to three times a day to ensure the optimum quality and cut stage of each stem. Roses are immediately transported into the grading hall in buckets with post-harvest solution where they are cooled for a minimum of 4-6 hours and then processed and cooled again before dispatch.

Equator flowers always places maximum efforts in ensuring that all of the roses produced attain the desired market quality. Therefore an efficient system of controls has been placed to ensure all aspects of growing and harvesting are followed. The quality assurance department continuously reviews every product to ensure that they meet stringent quality criteria. This process is central to guarantee that our customers receive excellent Roses with great quality, proper grading and safe packaging

Under value addition the company has invested in post-harvest technology, flower dying and making of bouquets. It also applies the law of momentum theory on spray pumps and this reduces vibration hence increasing on operational pressure and less maintenance on the spray pipe lines

There has been the introduction of new spray molecules to the spray regimes which has translated into less sprays, ultimately giving employees time to tender the crop and also being compliant to audits requirements using less than 10 molecules in a month.

The company is in the process of installing a 400kwp solar power to run the operation owing to the fact that the current power source has at times proven unreliable and expensive.

Investment in workers
But the greatest asset the company counts on is its more than 500 employees who include people with disabilities. The company embraces gender equality in the workplace. The company has invested in its workers through trainings on various issues ranging from health and safety protocols, mental health, crop husbandry and financial management among other incentives.

“When people are empowered to use their imagination, creativity, and tenacity, they can deliver incredible results in unusual circumstances, at equator we have created a culture of team work to promote work synergy with a slogan ‘equator -ni yetu’ the employees owns the company and at all times the employee have the interest of the company at heart,” said Mr. Kangogo.

In the spirit of altruism that guides the company, it has invested in a series of CSR activities such as sponsoring of Maths contest in the neighbouring primary and secondary schools, donation of school text books, renovation of classrooms, provision of tree and avocado seedlings to our employees and starting a chicken project for employees among other interventions.

Facing the challenges

But like any other business, Equator Flowers has had to contend with a series of challenges.
Freight capacity and rate have gone up which has limited the business’ potential since they cannot supply to clients as much as they would like. Punitive taxation region, high cost of farm inputs, double taxation, rising labour wages, energy costs and stagnant prices that are associated with the sector have also affected the flower farm.

The COVID-19 pandemic according to Mr. Kangogo, remain done of the most devastating moments for the flower industry as it had to lay off workers and the business ware crippled. He however says that the fighting spirit of the company kept it resilient.

“As a farm, this was one of the toughest periods we had to endure. The Covid-19 situation rendered exports impossible and crippled the business. We had to restructure our staff’s working hours to ensure that all staff worked at least two paid weeks to get income despite the pandemic to maintain their families. We also introduced hand washing points at the gate, disinfection points at the entrance of every building and all offices are disinfected in the morning and evening. This is the case to date. All staff at the farm were provided with masks for themselves and their immediate family members,” he said.

Growth strategy

But the company is undeterred and has its eyes on a robust growth strategy. It is looking to expand its flower portfolio, invest more in value addition, brand expand, market development and invest in CRM scanning system for traceability from harvest to dispatch in order to enhance quality.

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