The art, science & dedication in flower breeding, the NIRP EA style

The art, science & dedication in flower breeding, the NIRP EA style

Behind a portfolio of rose varieties that continue to excite the East African and global market due to their aesthetic value, good trade and growing performance, is the 15-year story and journey of NIRP East Africa, a scion of NIRP International S.A., 60 years of history in the roses field. The award-winning breeder located in Naivasha has over the years positioned itself as a market leader in the breeding, selection and marketing of standard and spray roses.

Sitting on around 2 hectares that host two greenhouses and a dedicated workforce of 30 workers, the breeder has invested in top notch research and technology coupled with military precision to ensure that they sate the appetite of every grower while responding to market dynamics.

Breeding roses is no mean feat. From the research and breeding studies and programs, to breeding process, seed production, selection, propagation to naming varieties and taking them to market, the processes require high financial and human resources, dedication and focus. The breeder in the quest to improve and boost the character traits of the varieties, whether in color, shape, productivity, vase life, niche or resistance to pests and diseases has had to burn the midnight oil to ensure varieties are up to market standards.

According to Alessandro Ghione, CEO at NIRP International S.A. and Director at NIRP East Africa Ltd, this process usually takes a minimum of five/seven years.

“It takes a minimum of five to seven years to develop a variety from planting the seeds, the selection process to the time of giving it a name and taking it to the market. The first phases are done internally, but after the first years of selections, it is very important for us to involve our best partners and customers, growers and traders, in order to add their evaluations to our analisys to get to the commercial introduction of varieties with a good chance of success. We organize visits to our “codes area” and show our customers the hybrids in “advanced phase” of selection, in order to get their impressions. Furthermore, we send them our best varieties in “pre-commercial phase” to let them grow, evaluate and test in their own companyand cultivation conditions. The traders as well are involved, sending them bunches of new varieties to check the appreciation on the commercial side. The entire process requires a lot of passion and vision. We breed for everyone and try to satisfy the needs of the markets because every grower has their own markets and requirements. There are clients who prefer small heads, straight colours, those specific on spray roses or premium varieties,” he said.

At the end, he adds, the process has paid off as demand for standard, spray and premium varieties continue to bloom across the region and beyond. He attributes that success to the focus, dedication and commitment of the staff that ensures a seamless breeding process to the end product.

However, all the breeding companies have had to contend with production and market-induced challenges.

The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the Russian-Ukraine war has taken a toll on demand and slowed business. According to Alessandro, when growers face depressed sales and a reduction in production, they scale down expansion or uprooting of old varieties in order to plant new ones. That then slows uptake of new varieties. The ongoing drought and weather changes that continue to affect growers has also affected demand for new orders for the breeder.

Alessandro also cites growing competition from other breeders who are constantly coming up with high-quality varieties as they seek to respond to market demand. Competition is always healthy since it sets the standards, motivate businesses to innovate and positions the Kenyan flowers as world class while boosting the industry prospects in the global space.

“To be on top of the game, it is essential to have a good product that excites the market for years to come because breeding is a long and time-consuming process. You have to be able to predict what the market will behave in years to come. Our strength is in the quality of our varieties especially the head size and good vase life. We have a portfolio of flowers that can fit across all growing regions which has given us a competitive edge,” Alessandro noted.

As the market evolves and customers continue to define trends, NIRP East Africa is working to respond to these dynamics. The company started a specific project in the development of other flower crops among them Hydrangea, Helichrysum, Heryngium, Clematis and many others. With the market demanding for preparation of bouquets at the point of flower production and growers keen to also diversify to other flower varieties to address these market demands, NIRP East Africa is readying to assist the growers.

In a bid to grow its foothold and better serve the various growing regions in East Africa, NIRP is looking at strengthening breeding in East Africa by increasing this activity in the region. At the moment, a bulk of the breeding, approximately 80 per cent, is done in Europe.

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