The 18th edition of The Naivasha International Horticultural Fair, is set to kick off in September, after a two-year COVID hiatus and on an electioneering year in Kenya.
It takes place as the industry continues to experience mixed fortunes and unique developments from the post-covid new way of doing business, the Russia-Ukraine conflict that is taken a toll on Kenyan exports, the plans to embrace sea freight for Kenyan perishables and transition to renewable energy.
These issues will feature predominantly in the Fair. But it is also an opportunity for participants to network, meet and greet and catch up while reflecting on the state of the industry.
Richard McGonnell, the Chairman of the Fair in an interview with HortFresh talks about the expectation of this year’s edition, the journey since the first fair took place 18 years ago, the industry’s outlook in the wake of emerging issues and what the future portends for the fair.
What should exhibitors, sellers and participants expect at this year’s Naivasha HortiFair?
We missed the last two editions. We hope more people will turn up in this edition for a meet and greet. Every year has gotten bigger and this year will be no different. We will have more stands and exhibitors. While the fair is primarily business-oriented, it also gives participants a chance to deliberate, network, meet clients, customers and suppliers in a relaxing atmosphere.
The Fair celebrates its 20th birthday this year. How would you say it has grown over the years?
We will be celebrating the 18th edition since we missed two editions due to COVID-19. Over the years, the fair has recorded tremendous growth. The first show had about 50 exhibitions. It has grown in popularity due to the fact that it is cost effective compared to other shows. It has also been pivotal in giving the horticulture industry good exposure after years of receiving bad press.
What has been the impact of COVID on your operations? What is your expectation after the comeback?
The markets bounced back fast after the COVID-induced restrictions. The industry is going through a rough period this year because of the Russia Ukraine war considering Russia is a big market for Kenyan flowers with some farms exporting up to 90 per cent of their produce to that market.
There is a lot of expansion of the industry in Kenya. Our hope is to bring in more developments, for example there is a lot of solar power investment in the industry which will shape the sector in a big way moving forward.
What would you say is the contribution of the fair to the horticulture industry?
We are expecting many foreign visitors. We want to have a flower growers pavilion but probably we will have that next year. We have also seen a lot of investment by growers to charity and social causes from health, human rights and education something that has grown impressively over the years.
What would you identify as the outstanding issues in the industry?
Top of my mind is the expensive air freight. There should be a dispensation at the airport for Kenyan produce including tourism because they are huge foreign exchange earners for the country. At the moment there are huge taxes at the airport.
There is a challenge with Russia and access to the market at the moment. We have to support the local industry to make money so that they are able to sustain themselves, pay taxes and remain globally competitive.
Kenya is looking at sea freight for its fresh produce to cut costs and remain sustainable. What are your thoughts on this move?
It is a revolutionary idea and quite timely. We need to look for innovative and sustainable transport models. However, the logistics for this kind of freight must be well thought out. The railway freight coaches to the coast are quite expensive. The cold storage facilities are not there on the SGR. The trains are not well equipped to help with the cooling aspect of the industry. The national carrier Kenya Airways should be leading on freight by air. There is no reason why we should be bringing foreign companies in the country to carry freight while our national airline is not running on full capacity. We should think of a win-win solution where we are able to market and sell our flowers while boosting the revenue of the national carrier.
What is the future of exhibitions in the wake of COVID-19 and the new normal?
The big international shows are about big international companies participating. Holland for example is a flower growing region with less than ten per cent production area of what Kenya grows. But they still have the flower shows because it is something they have been doing for some time, it is part of their history. At the Naivasha Horti Fair, a good number of exhibitors are international companies who are based in Kenya.
With other areas opening up for flower growing like Timau and Njoro, where do you see the future of flower growing in Naivasha? Could other areas topple Naivasha and exhibition venue being changed?
If you look at Timau and Njoro, they are ideal areas for growing large-headed flowers. Other zones such as Thika, Naivasha and Kitengela accommodate small sized heads.
Naivasha has capacity for millions of stems weekly which are needed by the market on a daily basis. Markets develop where we are selling more. If you look at Holland for example 25 years ago had a production area of about 2500 hectares which has come down to approximately 70 hectares. In Central Europe, there is no growing of flowers. These areas producing different qualities of head size of flowers are filling the gap in the market because there are areas where growing is too expensive. Naivasha remains prime.
The proceeds of the Naivasha Horticultural Fair go to local charities. We have built a secondary school from what we collect from the fair. We have also built two health units including a maternal care, toilets and water tanks that have been benefitting the local community. We also run a rescue shelter for abused children which was voted the best community project in East Africa.
And of course we look forward to meeting all our old friends from the industry wether they be growers or suppliers to the industry, and new friends those that are just interested in joining the industry. Looking forward to it immensely