Pause: Flower power in Kenya and Ethiopia: a sign of things to come

Pause: Flower power in Kenya and Ethiopia: a sign of things to come

On Valentine’s Day last month, I came across an article in a top British newspaper: “My love is like a red rose shipped all the way from Africa.” It told how fresh cut roses grown in Kenya and Ethiopia are now exported in huge numbers to Europe, a market dominated for over 300 years by flower growers in the Netherlands (also known as Holland).

“Where once most cut flowers, including red roses, came from Holland. . .today they more likely come from Africa. New figures reveal a huge drop in Dutch production, in favour of imports from Kenya — where roses are called “waridi” in Swahili — and Ethiopia. Half a million people depend on the floriculture industry in Kenya alone,” according to the Daily Telegraph (14/02/16).

Holland still holds onto about half the cut flower market worldwide, but now Kenya and Ethiopia are the #4 and #5 cut-flower producers in the world! Together they earned more $1.3 billion in export sales in 2014. That’s 13.5% of global market share in a $9.1+ billion global market! Wow!

Proper growing of even one rose bush in your own garden requires knowledge of water, light, soil, pest management, fertilizers, and pruning. The best rose growers chalk up their success to a lifetime of experience and a lot of “TLC” (tender loving care).

How did Kenya and Ethiopia master all these processes to become world-class growers and exporters of cut flowers in this highly-sophisticated global market? They partnered and recruited experts from all over the world. They invested billions in the latest technologies, including climate-controlled transport terminals specially designed to ensure fresh flowers arrive quickly across the world looking as beautiful and smelling as nice as when they were first cut!

They listened to customers who say they really want to buy cut flowers that last a long time! They learned from the transfer of technology skills and best practices. Result: Kenyan and Ethiopian flower exports have expanded exponentially, making billions in forex earnings for their countries, and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Research and development will continue as in any major industry. For example, flowers require a lot of fresh water to grow. That’s a scarce resource. Cultivation requires a huge number of workers. That means ensuring labour management that respects and protects workers and their families. They require a lot of sun (very plentiful in Kenya and Ethiopia on the Equator, so year-round growing is possible). But sometimes weather is unpredictable and supply must not be affected so that means investment in glass houses (also known as green houses).

This is floriculture, but why stop there?

__Who says we can’t go on to challenge traditional global market leaders in other industries over the next few decades? I believe we can!

Someday we’ll read stories like this on a regular basis about Africans rising up to dominate industries like textiles, electronic manufacturing, motor vehicle production, food processing, health care, and many others.

It won’t happen simply because we want to see it. We have to take practical steps to ensure it happens. I remember 20 years ago serving on the board of an investment fund set up by then President Bill Clinton, and chaired by Ambassador Andrew Young.

We identified horticulture as one of many potential industries where Africa could excel. We did extensive research to see what conditions and policies would be required for this to happen.

Although Kenya was behind several other countries at the time (and Ethiopia was nowhere to be seen, but if you ever met the Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi and his colleagues nothing would surprise you today)… We all agreed that Kenya would take off, even though we had no idea how far they would go!

Now if you go to church on Easter Sunday, or a wedding any time of the year, and you see roses, you now know there’s a very good chance they were grown in African soil under African skies. Don’t just see them as beauty… celebrate them as another way Africa is rising! Happy Easter.


Image Caption: Fair trade rose flower farm in Kenya which produces cutting flowers for export to Europe

Author:Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and Executive Chairman of the Econet Group. He serves on several international boards including Unilever, and the Global Advisory boards of the Council on Foreign Relations and Stanford University. A board member of the Rockefeller Foundation for 15 years, he also serves as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). He is a co-founder of the Carbon War Room, Pathways for Prosperity, and the Global Business Coalition on Education. He and his wife, Tsitsi, co-founded the Higherlife Foundation and are signators of the Giving Pledge.

19 Replies to “Pause: Flower power in Kenya and Ethiopia: a sign of things to come”

  1. Dear Strive, thanks for the article on horticulture. Saw it on Facebook, got really interested. I would like to ask if you can share more information, possible contacts to enable me take this further. I live in Nigeria and I would like to know if it is feasible here and what I need to have in place to achieve this. Many thanks,Tobi Boshoro

  2. Afterthought 1.

    Policies to attract investment are very important but policies that are formulated without ever consulting those whom you hope to attract to invest are at best a total waste of time. It always saddens me when I see well meaning policymakers sit down to prepare policies and even laws without ever consulting anyone other than themselves and their ministers. It’s so often ‘take it or leave it,’ because we know what is best.” Next post I am going to write about the importance of listening!

  3. I recently had an opportunity to do a tour of the Dutch horticultural industry. Amongst the things that struck me were the following:

    1. The country is actually very small and yet they have built a high value agricultural industry. It really fascinated me how they are able to generate such high income from tiny plots of land.

    2. One of their leading professors in agriculture told me that they have developed tomato seeds that are so valuable that one kg is worth more than one kg of gold.
    3. They export over $10bn of vegetables every year. Just imagine this is more than the GDP of many countries in Africa.

    I’m always trying to learn something new wherever I go. I particularly like to try and understand what drives prosperity of nations.
    I did not tour because I wanted to go into agriculture, I simply wanted to learn, so I can help small holder farmers in Africa to make more money for themselves. I’m after all chairman of the largest organization in Africa, seeking to uplift the lives of small holder farmers: AGRA.
    If you look for good you will find it, if you look for bad you will find it too. Remember the old adage I taught you—“eat the meat and throw away the bones”.

  4. In a modern economy there is more to agriculture than simply growing food. If you are also able to grow things for the export markets foreign currency flows into your economy. This enables your country to import other things that are not produced locally including medicines.
    Growing food is good; growing things that generate exports is also good; both should be there. Let’s develop our capacity to do both, as best we can.

  5. From my last post on sport, I hope that some of you have began to appreciate the “business side” of sport.
    Content is the “raw material” of the broadcasting business.
    When you set up a broadcasting business you have to buy “Rights” from the owners of the content. These rights vary in price from a few hundred thousand $, even to billions of dollars per year for sport in markets like the US, and Europe.
    English Premier League, Spanish League, Champions League, CAF (African soccer) and NBA American Basketball League, are the most expensive when it comes to the African market. Other sports like Rugby, Formula One are also premiumly priced assets.
    Entertainment content like movies, and top series are also extremely expensive.
    Every type of business has a “raw material”—the better the raw material, the better the output. What is the “raw material” of your business?

  6. Chinweike writes:

    I was just 17 years and a first year student in 2010.something happened that I cannot forget, I went to my local government to get my identification,in course of filling the form the worker asked me “what’s your father’s occupation” I replied “farmer”. I couldn’t believe what I saw,not only the woman laughed at me but even other ppl I thought were not hearing us.
    Now, when she asked me again ” what’s your mother’s occupation, I was too fast to cover my shame,I replied “trader”. this is pure act of cowardice on my side cos out of fear n shame I had suddenly denied what have kept my family alive.
    I was pretty much sure that both my father n mother earned more than those worker through farming with just their first school leaving certificates but pride n ignorance have overshadowed them.
    if they had known that I was in first year Agricultural economics, may be I’d be crucified right away.
    I am now a graduate waiting for national youth service, I am proud to have read agriculture n am ready for commercial farming.
    thank for this piece.
    Agriculture is underrated n I shouldn’t be so.

    My reply:
    I’m so proud of you. Don’t look to the left or to the right; set your gaze on agriculture with your chin set like flint, for surely your success is assured. And I will be there to cheer you all the way.
    Africa’s future is in good hands—your hands!

  7. Fifteen years ago whilst on business in Mauritius I asked my young guide how things were going in his country. He excitedly took me to see a rocky piece of wasteland just outside the capital and pointing at it he said:
    “Sir, my grandfather worked as a farm laborer, and used his money to send my father to school and he worked in a hotel as a waiter, and he sent us to school. Here on this land our government is going to build a world class financial services center; we call it Cyber City. This is where I shall work”, he said proudly, and then added, “sir, we have a vision as a nation; come back one day and see.”
    Fifteen years later, it is the largest Financial Center in SS Africa after Joburg. The wasteland is now gleaming high rise buildings housing some of the largest, most sophisticated businesses in the world. Thousands of jobs have been created, billions of dollars in foreign exchange flow through the economy every year. I moved the headquarters of Econet Global there many years ago, and we have beautiful offices employing many professionals.

    What do you “see”? What is your vision?

  8. Nnamdi writes,

    True talk. We are awaiting the take of of your kwese sports so as to key in. I pray you would find it worthy to bring it to Nigeria.

    My reply:
    Nigeria is always a key market in anything I try to do in Africa. It is now 16 years since I first arrived to do business in Nigeria. It was difficult at first, but now I have mastered how to do business there in a clean way. By the grace of God I have truly prospered in Nigeria. We have huge plans for Kwesé Sports in Nigeria. We are going to storm that great country!

  9. Patrick Latigo writes,

    Strive, this is a real master piece. As an African entrepreneur with a big dream for high quality, high value added agricultural products that meet stringent export markets’ quality and safety requirements, I strongly belief the continent will surely rise. We need enabling business environment created by African governments and sustained promotion campaigns of our products. Look at the opportunities under AGOA! So much can be done by Africans. Happy Easter too.

    My reply,
    Two years ago when the renewal of AGOA was being delayed in the American Congress, I travelled there in my capacity as Chairman of AGRA, with former President of Nigeria President Obasanjo to urge Senators and Congressmen to renew it.
    As AGRA we have also been fighting hard to ensure that another major initiative which helps African Small holder farmers called “Feed The Future”, is also extended. This is one of the most important things President Obama put in place that few people except policy experts know about. We are not just focused on the the US, but we also engage Europe, China, Brazil and India to try and open up markets for African agriculture.
    With my colleagues at AGRA we spend a lot of time helping African governments design policies aimed at fostering agricultural development, A lot of progress is being made, but these things take time, and we must be patient even as we persevere.

  10. Reflection:
    A dear friend sent me a message this weekend in which he drew my attention to the remarkable similarity between John 3:16, and 1John 3:16.
    The Apostle John wrote the two books at very different times. And he did not paginate them into numbered verses.
    In 1994 when I read the bible cover to cover for the first time, my Pastor (Tom Deuschle) asked me for my initial impression; to which I said:
    “I’m still trying to reconcile how a book written by more than 60 different writers spanning hundreds and even thousands of years; reads as though it was written by one person.”
    He smiled and said, “if you will believe, it was written by one Author.”
    Have a blessed Easter.
    ps. There is something about Easter that always makes it feel like the first day of my life!

  11. Papa Ekow writes:

    I feel your AGRA team must have left Ghana out of this product, nevertheless bless you for the impact you have set in me so far with your teachings.

    My reply,
    Ghana is one of the key countries in the Agra initiatives, so key that it is the West African headquarters of the entire initiatives. The first chairman and founder of Agra is the Hon Kofi Annan. Only a few months ago I was in Ghana and we held the Agra board meeting there. We also held meetings with President Mahama, and former President John Kuffour.
    If you are interested in the work of Agra visit their website, and also follow online.
    The Internet is a wonderful tool my dear brother because it allows you to do so much research on your own about any issue. You are even able to go back and study some of the things I have written on agriculture in Africa, and even see some of my speeches.

  12. Greetings,
    I am a Black American based in Houston, Texas (USA)
    I am spearheading an initiative to connect African and Black American business interest for the purpose of import and export of goods and services…interested in the Roses business and seeking to identify other opportunities….African American possess $1.4 trillion in spending power…I am seeking to partner with African interests to create business opportunities!!

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