Kenya’s $800m flower market booms thanks to China


Red Lands Roses in Kenya produce some of the boldest shades of roses, from brilliant red to bright yellow and even hot pink. Each bouquet of flowers is carefully prepared for export to several countries, with China being one of their biggest markets.

This flower farm is just one of many in Kenya, which is the fourth largest exporter of cut flowers in the world. In fact, Kenya’s floriculture industry brought in over $800 million in 2017.

“Every day we export 36,000 tons from this country,” said Clement Tulezi, CEO of Kenya Flower Council. “So we’re heading to a place where we want to market ourselves better, we want to market ourselves better as a country, and also brand the Kenyan flower.”

And now Kenya’s fragrant beauties are finding their way to farther shores.

“We do Beijing, we do Shanghai and we do Guangzhou,” said Irene Nkatha, Sales Manager of Red Lands Roses. “We started with one shipment per week, now we do two to three shipments per week. The distance is short. There is only one day to go to Guangzhou, only two days to go to Beijing.

One of the main companies that Red Lands Roses exports to is Jiuye Supply Chain in Guangzhou.

“We chose to introduce flowers from Kenya to China because of the large number of varieties they grow, including some that you cannot find in other regions,” said Qi Bo, director of the department of flowers from Jiuye Supply Chain.

The lifespan of Kenya flower vases is also an attractive quality for many.

“When you export as a stem today, it will take 14 days to 21 days in a vase,” Nkatha said.

Qi Bo said there is a 25% annual increase in demand for Kenyan flowers in China, and the company expects to double its imports to five million in 2018.

“In 2017, we imported 2.5 million flowers from Kenya,” he added. “Kenya has advanced breeding and planting skills as well as cold chain storage and transport technologies, which China lacks.

The flower industry in China has started late, and the overall product quality and criteria are not mature, especially in terms of transportation. It is very far behind Kenya.

Red Lands Roses said it exports 11% of its production to China and has the potential to do around 30% if it does not encounter obstacles.

“The biggest challenge is the flight,” Nkatha said. “We find that we only have Kenya Airways, which only goes to one Guangzhou. So if you have another shipment to Beijing to Shanghai, they have to use a domestic, which makes it inconvenient and a bit expensive.

High tariffs are also a problem for both parties.

“We have heavy taxes and duties when importing agricultural products,” Qi Bo said.

“To solve this problem, we use a strategy called single import and centralized distribution. This means that we import multiple batches of products at one time and distribute them to Jiuye’s warehouses across the country to reduce the influence of taxes and duties.

“Our product is subject to higher taxes in China, which makes us uncompetitive in that market,” Tulezi said. “Our hope is that the government will intervene so that we can negotiate favorable trade protocols and agreements with China.”

It’s a move that many believe could help Kenya’s flower industry reach its full potential in China.

Terisa K. Carn