Nini Flowers is comprised of two farms, Nini Limited and Lamorna Limited. Nini Flowers is fully dedicated to developing people internally, within the local community and those who buy their flowers. The farms are both fairtrade certified. Nini has a fairtrade office run by Arnold Hopf. “We try to improve the social economic level of our people, both on the farms and in the community outside” says Arnold. The fair trade program pays 70% of secondary school fees and university tuition for all workers’ children.
It also offers capacity building for staff and their spouses in areas of HR, accounting, engineering, tailoring and others, by paying 70% of tuition fees for college and university. “If you empower somebody, that person can go outside and create employment and that’s what we want for the community” says Arnold.
The fairtrade programme also runs the staff canteen and supplies personal protection gear to Nini and to other farms on order. It has also built classrooms in Ndumbiri and Mirere primary schools, water tanks at Milimani primary school and baby care units for workers.
All these programmes are funded by a premium or margin which is 10% of costs paid over and above the price of the flower by customers. The 10% premium does not go to Nini Flowers but goes directly to the fairtrade programme. All these benefits have made 70% of the workforce stay at the company for over 10 years.
In addition to being dedicated to people, the company is also devoted to flowers. Nini Ltd was started in 1996 and it was the first purpose built rose farm in Kenya. Originally the farm grew roses for the Dutch Auctions, but since 2011, the farm has changed its varieties and ethos and become a key supplier to retail multiples. In November 2017, it won the award for the Best Foreign Supplier to the Dutch Flower Group.
The group grows and exports 115 million stems per year of which 2.4 million stems per week go to retail outlets abroad and 1.3 million stems per week go to the Dutch Flower Group (DFG) through companies like Bloom, Intergreen, Rosalink, and Fresh From Source. The flowers are mainly sold in Western Europe, the United Kingdom, Japan and the USA
Some 50,000 stems per week used to go to Australia but that market was deemed too small and with the introduction of different phytosanitary requirements, it was discontinued.
Nini Flowerws market linkages with DFG and the various retail outlets are of a beneficial nature because the contracts are negotiated a year ahead at a fixed price. “That’s our model” says Philip Kuria, the Farm Manager at Nini.
“We go to Europe in September or October and negotiate for the whole of the year; these are the volumes, these are the prices and we go back to the farm and grow flowers” says Philip. This cushions both the farms and the seller in case of price fluctuations, as was the case in January 2019 when prices crashed after overproduction in December 2018.
This crash was just the first of a long list of challenges that the industry faced last year. It all started in March when the heavy rains came. This had the effect of reducing production and increasing the diseases that affect roses.
June-July were very cold, and again production was affected. In August there was a fertilizer shortage and the industry feared counterfeit fertilizer. This meant that all of it was retested and thus an artificial shortage ensued. “The government should protect us from those fertilizer issues” advises Philip. “They should fast-track the system and ensure the country has enough fertilizer” he continues.
In December there was overproduction and prices plummeted in January. The prices stayed 20% lower than the norm even during Valentine’s. March through April saw a shortage of water and June brought back the cold.
The farms have 8 accreditations among them including the ISO 14001, MPS SQ, MPS GAP, Fair Trade and the Kenya Flower Council Silver award. The group has a total of 50 ha under production and all the roses are grown in greenhouses. Most roses are grown in hydroponics with a closed fertigation system.
Mr. Kuria has 22 years experience in the flower industry, 16 of which has been spent at Nini flowers. He studied horticulture at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and a post-graduate in post-harvest handling from Egerton University. He says the future of the industry is in technology. “We should encourage people to use the internet of things (IOT), I think that’s the way to go; using technology to increase efficiency and traceability”. They are currently working on a system to utilize IOT.
The farm conducts continuous assessment of its products and replaces 15% of the flowers every year to keep the final roses bright and fresh. It specializes in intermediate flowers for supermarkets. It exports over 15 varieties of roses; reds, whites, yellows, oranges, pinks, cerises and bi-colours. It is starting to do bouquets but it outsources fillers from other fair trade certified farms.
Sustainability is something that the farm takes seriously. “In fact Lake Naivasha Riparian Association is coming to have their offices here”. Says Philip. They are also members of the LNGG. The farm also runs on 30% solar power during the day when the sun is out. It produces 150 Kph of solar energy. The electric fence around the farm is also powered by solar.