It has been a decade of blossom for Molo River Roses Ltd since inception, and a beautiful milestone that seemed a hurdle during its establishment.
By Mary Mwende Mbithi
When a seed is planted, the sprouts exult the sower; the new shoots are his source of inspiration to nurturing the new plant to maturity until it brings forth good fruit. Thus, the farmer has every reason to celebrate his bumper crop. Similarly, achievements are a call for celebration. After years of toiling like a Trojan and working one’s fingers to the bone, success is the ultimate crown that underscores the results. It may take a long or a short duration but regardless of time, success is success. The wise man said ‘hurry, hurry has no blessings,’ but went on to say; ‘slowly but surely, the bird builds its nest.’ Before we could even rethink, he added that; ‘both the fast and the slow will meet each other on the ferry boat.’ In other words, success does not come with a timestamp. After years of toil and moil, it’s now ten years of success for Molo River Roses Ltd! “It has been a decade of blossom for Molo River Roses Ltd since inception, and a beautiful milestone that seemed a hurdle during its establishment. Eventually, it has birthed a success story- the story of a mega lodestar, a prestigious flower farm in Kenya -Molo River Roses Ltd, ” an elated Mr. Andrew Wambua, the Group General Manager said.
Here’s the beautiful story of Molo River Roses;
In the wild, sultry and parched area of Kilelwa, Kabarak, 30 kilometers Northwest Lake Nakuru, in the flamingo county of Nakuru, a story is told of one farmer’s hobby that was ultimately turned into a cash cow. Just as the axiom, ‘Happy is the man who can make a living by his hobby.’ Out of the love for flowers, a rose farm flourished and was named after Molo River which flows within the area, providing water to the immediate community.
“Do you think we can grow flowers in this area?’’ Mr. Wambua smiled as he recalled the words asked by the then Executive Chairman of Mzurrie group as they visited the location intended to set up the new flower farm. “Looked at the area, the immediate answer which came to my mind was ‘No’ but when I opened my mouth I said ‘Yes’…” he added.
Given that this was a familiarization tour, Mr. Wambua decided to revisit the site to do a detailed feasibility study. Together with his team, they did a number f technical studies including soil and water analysis tests. They collected data from the nearest meteorological station which included; rain, temperature and humidity data. Later, they did the topographical survey of the area which helped in positioning of the greenhouses and other facilities within the farm.
After all studies were concluded and financing approved, it was time to move to the ground to implement the project. The team cleared the bushes and fenced off 30 Hectares from the larger ranch area. Then they cut off a new road to the farm and graded it. This made transportation of materials easier. Afterwards the area was flattened and setting up of the greenhouses commenced.
“Not long after we moved to the ground than the rains started. We had not completed the new road and trucks transporting greenhouse materials would get stuck, and the materials would be offloaded far from the site. The rains would start during the day making it impossible to work outdoors.” Mr. Wambua narrated.
“The other challenge was getting skilled labor within the neighborhood. The nearest flower farm from this area by then was about 50 kilometers away and most locals had not dealt with flowers before. We had to start intensive trainings on all aspects of flower production and handling,” noted Mr. Wambua.
Eventually, a ten hectares piece of land, right in the middle of a torrid region, where only cactus and other spiky shrubs grew, became the birth place of Molo River Roses in 2012. An idea that saw the reclamation of the environment around Molo River Roses bringing forth a microclimate around the vicinity.
According to Mr. Wambua, who has overseen the growth of the farm since inception, the sprinkler and the screen systems were the way forward to making the dream a reality. On the ten hectare piece of land, spray roses were planted. This attempt came out well and with time, the management expanded the farm in phases from 10 ha to 12 ha, 15 ha, 17.5 ha, 23 ha, then 27 ha. Currently, the farm is on a clear span of 30 hectares of fifty-two varieties of spray and standard Roses. To be precise, 60% of the land is on spray roses and 40% on standard roses.
Affiliation of Molo River Roses Ltd to other flower farms
Under the umbrella name ‘Mzurrie Flowers,’ the farm brags of two sister-farms namely Maji Mazuri Flowers Ltd and Winchester farm Ltd Bahati. Maji Mazuri Flowers Ltd was started in 2002 and is situated in Moi’s Bridge- Eldoret, standing at an altitude of 1950 metres above sea level. It covers an area of 30 hectares under spray and standard rose production.
Standing at an altitude of 2160 metres above sea level, Winchester Farm on the other hand, was instituted in the year 1992 in Nairobi but in 2015 the farm was moved to Bahati area of Nakuru. The farm prides itself in production of premium roses and just like the two sister farms, it runs expansively on 30 hectares of land.
The suitability of Nakuru to setup Molo River Roses
Despite the fact that the area was hot and dry, the land was readily available. There was the need to utilize a large chunk of ranch that lay fallow and the best way was to plant flowers and trees.
“The area was like a waste land, a 1,500 Hectare ranch full of ant hills, huge gullies and thick thorny shrubs at an altitude of 1750 metres above sea level. There was no in road to the farm from the main road. We had to park our cars beside the main road and walk the one kilometer stretch to the centre of the farm,” Said Mr. Wambua.
“The farm was not as bad as we thought. Some areas were relatively flat with few ant hills. Our Director had invested heavily on huge natural dams holding more than 500,000m3 (cubic metres) of rain water, which was the main reason for wanting us to start the flower farm in this area. The soils looked good, mainly clay loams with no rocks even to a depth of 30 feet. It was a hot day and I could estimate the temperatures to be 28-30 degrees Celsius.” Mr. Wambua added.
Human Resource Molo River Roses has a work force of 450 employees. The Group General Manager Mr. Andrew Wambua oversees all the group operations of Mzurrie Flowers. All the three farms have managers who sit at the helm of the respective farms with Ms. Paula Koros at Molo River Roses, Mr. Mark Juma at Maji mazuri and Mr. Joseph Kasoso at Winchester Farm. Each farm has a farm manager. The marketing department is headed by the Group marketing manager who oversees all the marketing activities of the three farms.
In Molo River Roses, the management is actively engaged in the welfare of the farm’s employees. They are oftenly treated to special lunches, get togethers and end year parties among other social events. They also provide adequate and appropriate protective gear for their employees.
As Mr. Wambua puts it, “I would rather train employees and they leave, than not train them and they stay,” the management invests in employee trainings such as technical and finance workshops among other trainings.
Molo River is founded on values that promote teamwork, reliability, passion, respect and integrity. These build that firm foundation and a conducive working environment for its entire staff. In his coherent explanation Mr. Wambua talked of humane treatment of employees citing, “Be hard on standards but be soft on your people (employees).” He went on to say, “Deal with the issue, not the person.”
Driven by the mission statement of the farm, ‘To propagate and grow quality flowers in Kenya for export in a socially and environmentally responsible manner, geared towards satisfying customer needs while providing value to shareholders in dynamic and challenging atmosphere for employees,’ and the vision that; ‘To be the world`s preferred brand in floriculture’; simply means that, at Molo River Roses, customer satisfaction is key.
The whole idea is to give the client a good end-product. The farm aims to gratify their clients’ needs through production of high quality roses by instilling high standards of production. The management has put in place quality control systems in various departments within the farm. Also, the communication department is focused on customer feedback through the communication platforms availed for feedback by the management.
Operations: Molo River Roses Ltd has set out management, guidelines on GAPS, minimal use of pesticides and fertilizers, environmental policy, social responsibility as well as staff welfare. The farm undertakes regular in-house audits in order to identify and assess any risk on constant basis and arrange a time bound action plan.
Nutrition: Molo River Roses is aimed at chemical and fertilizer reduction as well as better flower quality through water conservation techniques among them, the fully computerized irrigation system to ensure that just the needed water is used. Water Recycling also reduces soil erosion and contamination hence preserving the environment and water catchment areas.
Certifications: Molo River Roses prides itself in a number of certifications which include: The Kenya Flower Council Silver, MPS – GAP, MPS – SQ and MPS ABC.
Water Usage: Water is the lifeline of the flower industry. Production of quality flowers requires sustainable water usage. This is achieved through, installing water meters, rotors, sprays, valves and central control systems, to offer a range of technical enhancements for improved water management. Spray heads and valves have water saving regulators. Moreover, Molo River Roses harvests all rain water in a dam.
Chemical Storage: Molo River uses a number of chemicals and fertilizers. Handling these fertilizers determines their quality and effective usage. The operational policy is “First in First out” to ascertain that expired chemicals are excluded for use. Grading: This is a very fundamental part of the quality control of the flower production. In this stage, flowers are graded according to their quality before being packed for export. Poor quality flowers are discarded as part of waste.
Waste separation and Re-use: There are five major sources of Flower waste grouped as follows;
- The crop residue that is composted and used as manure on the farm.
- The polythene material that makes the greenhouses that are sold to a NEMA approved contractor for recycling.
- The drip irrigation tubing, which are also sold to contractors for re-use.
- The chemical containers, which are hazardous in nature, they are sold to Environmental and Combustion Consultants Ltd.
- The waste papers from office are sent to recycling companies.
Molo River Roses grows 52 Varieties of roses with 60% as spray roses and 40% as standard roses. They are at 60% direct market and 40% auction market. According to Mr. Wambua, Molo River’s main market is in Europe, Russia, Middle East, U.S.A and China.
Community Social Responsibility (CSR)
Henry David Thoreau, an American naturalist, poet and a philosopher in one of his different works of art cited that, ‘goodness is the only investment which never fails.’ His fellow writer Anthony J. D’Angelo, too said, ‘without a sense of caring there can never be any sense of community.’ These wise words describe how Molo River Roses took Corporate Social Responsibility as their mandate to care for the community and nurture the environment. The farm has availed resources for public institutions such as dispensaries and schools.
They provide water tanks for dispensaries, give bursaries to needy children, desks and build classrooms for schools in the community. The farm is a major sponsor of public days and is actively involved in environmental rehabilitation whereby they buy trees for schools and households for planting.
Molo River Roses uses the banana system for transportation of the flowers; this helps in reduction of emissions. The farm runs on 46% solar energy from the installed solar system supplies .Again, composting of crop residue from the farm helps in making of composite manure.
Covid 19 and the War in Ukraine
During the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the entire flower industry had a taste of the adversity. Molo River was not exempted, the effects were felt likewise. Flower orders dropped by 20%. The curfews and the lockdowns made it impossible to reach market destinations for flowers, so Molo River Roses continued to feed the crop, but this time they cut and threw the flowers. It was a loss but for the crop it was healthy because when the markets were opening up again, there was good, well fed crop which meant that the end customer was not compromised on standards at all.
Again, unlike the trend that swung around most flowers farms during the pandemic, Molo River Roses did not lay off their staff neither did they deduct or reduce their salaries not to mention the benefits of their employees. For them, despite the anomaly brought about by the pandemic, operations went on normally.
On the war in Ukraine, It is true that one of Molo River Roses’ markets is Russia; therefore, they are directly affected by the ongoing war in Ukraine. Mr. Wambua said that, “Though a major market destination, the management decided to move the products that were meant for the Russian market to other markets.”
Further, the war has caused increase in prices of fertilizer, fuel, freight as well as reduced freight capacity and frequency.
Molo River Roses aspires to be the best, the crème de la crème in the flower sector. They aim to produce top tier, quality flowers in order to maintain the brand name. As Ms. Paula Koros says, “More investment on dams will be the ultimate goal of the flower farm.”
To conclude, Mr. Wambua had this to say, “It has been an exciting job for me transforming a bush into a flower farm. What I have learnt is that you need to plan well and have the end in your mind before starting any project. Be prepared to encounter a number of challenges.”