Briefly discuss Harry (background-personal and as a grower to current position General Manager Sunland Flowers)

My name is Harry Kruger and I am the General manager of Sunland Roses Ltd. Before I came to Kenya to farm Hybrid Tea roses I studied Viticulture and Pomology in South Africa. I was busy making wine when I saw the opportunity by working in Kenya.

How do you see the future for African rose growers? What should they focus on to survive?

The world in general seems to have contradicting ideas about African rose growers. Some I’ve met still think that growers in Africa and especially in East Africa are still only concerned with the auction style of growing. African growers need to concentrate on optimizing the size of their businesses and focus more on quality rather than quantity. That being said, there are still many brilliant farms that grow for auction and that is great, but we should realize that the world is constantly changing and that the direct market is a huge force behind some of those changes. Without going into too much detail, the scenario is basically the following; other countries have been supplying the direct market place with very high quality stems for a long time and the growers in East Africa are fairly new in the game, so to speak. This is not to say that we lack anything or have inferior quality roses, but some markets seem to have this stigma, that long stemmed top quality Hybrid Tea roses do not come from Africa, but rather South America. This was perhaps true in the past, maybe about ten or fifteen years ago, but is no longer the case. Kenya, for one, produces stems that in my mind can definitely rival those from any other country. The goal should be to get markets to realize this and not simply put our flowers in the back and focus on the other countries they’re used to in the past.


You have been growing and selling flowers for most of your professional life, if you would have to give your remarks about being a grower, what would they be?

Well, as I mentioned, I was a wine maker before and only moved to flowers about two years ago. What I can comment on is the absolute passion one must have for this horticultural endeavour. It is a very hands-on business and continues right through the year even on Christmas day unlike some other types of farming. This business makes money every minute of the day but in parallel, also consumes money every minute, so there is a very delicate balance one must maintain in order to make it work and deliver a continuous level of top quality products. Using biological products like natural enemies to control pests, soils products and technology that are evolving in the industry.

Any challenges you have faced as a grower?

As a commercial farmer here, unlike the subsistence farmer of vegetables or coffee, who rely heavily on rainfall for their crops to grow, I have found one of the biggest challenges is that of excessive rainfall. On the other hand I also want to mention that, as cold as the climate can get here, it is definitely thawed by the warmth of character displayed by the people I work with. There are so many challenges daily, so to name a few, variety choices, market dynamics, local government policies towards the horticulture, exchange dynamics, disease factors and handling people.

What would you point out as your strongest attribute that has made you succeed as a grower?

If I were to put it in one word it would be Passion. It can sometimes seem a daunting task to produce the quality roses we expect from ourselves, but if one has passion for what we are doing here, what we are building towards, it is so worth it by the close of every day. With branding Kenya it is important that we stay quality orientated. Being an optimum size farm is important and thus being ableto keep up with trends of market dynamics and detail of market research. With this done, we can decide for ourselves whether we can believe what the markets are saying, and if new products are indeed working.

In your experiences, briefly discuss production, the vase life and transportability and marketing of flowers in Kenya?

Kenya supplies a high percentage of roses to the world market. With this in mind it is important to recognize that at high altitude a Hybrid Tea rose only averages about 70 – 80 stems per square meter and intermediates only average about 180 stems per square meter. As far as vase life goes, any grower can tell you that maintaining a constant and well controlled cold chain is paramount for the good vase life of a rose. Varieties also play a role but the secret is maintaining a cold chain. Transport is also a point to keep in mind and using a reputable shipping agent serves for much less hassle. Again, it is crucial to do correct and thorough research when branding yourself and your selection of quality roses, unlike farming was in the past.

In your experience discuss the minimum/maximum head size in cm and stem length in cm you expect from most rose varieties in different growing areas in Kenya? Does this mean anything when a grower is selecting a variety?

We the are situated on the northern slopes of Mt Kenya at an altitude of 2400 meters above sea level, so our region, Timau, is concisely referred to as “altitude growing”. So our head size which is in general about 5cm – 7cm, is in general bigger than that of lower altitude growers, but this comes with a price, as our stems grow slower and yield much less stems per square meter than those at lower altitude. Variety selection is one of the most complicated facets of the job and is partially influenced by eventual head size, but there are so many other variables to take into account simultaneously. Vase life is one of these points to seriously consider. We do also have intermediate varieties that have smaller head sizes, but the way we choose our varieties, how we farm and our rather open cut stage of the roses, do make the difference. We believe a rose should have a great vase life but also need to open while on the vase. Due to this, our intermediate varieties are very close to the size of a Hybrid Tea once they open.

Concerning marketing, discuss both direct and auction markets. For the last one year we have seen a more aggressive marketing by flower farms with increments of direct sales compared to the auctions, what can you attribute this to?

In the last five years along with the international financial market crashes, the whole business has changed and has bloomed into a concept of quality rather than quantity. Hyperbole aside, but buyers are sick and tired of riding the wave of receiving a good product that fetches a good price one day and the next the quality has disappeared. On the other side of this, growers are also tired of working with unreliable buyers that buy one day and the next run off to another grower who is cutting his prices. This facilitated the situation where both quality growers and quality buyers are now using marketing campaigns in order to find each other and build self sustainable relationships. Basically buyers have realized that if they want quality flowers year round, they need to step into a relationship with quality growers and then look after them. There seems to be a general trend to move away from auction to direct in order to spread your risks. It’s also important to note that by moving more direct as mentioned earlier, you must believe in the standards and prices you have and not sacrifice this. By doing this we can keep Kenya a quality destination for flowers. Having said that, there definitely are very good marketing structures within the auction. However if research is not properly done in supply and demand we can be our own worst enemy by over production, flooding the market, which causes prices to fall. If you can’t make it on the auction via prices and buyers it doesn’t mean that one will be able to do well on the direct market.

What is opinion: Sell farm made bouquets or sell to bouquet makers?

Where ever you find the best people to work with, who share your passion and want to work together towards building a good relationship.

How would you describe your time as the General Manager, Sunland Flowers?Are you passionate about what you do?

As I’ve mentioned before our whole team is passionate about what we do and I believe that this is what makes us different from our competitors.

What is your vision for Sunland Flowers? What are your top priorities?

I think our mission statement; Love, Energy and Beauty, and everything it stands for would be our top priority. By this I mean, to always maintain a product of excellent quality and above all, keep our daily tasks in line with a sustainable agricultural practice and markets.

Briefly discuss the Sunland Flowers team? What’s the biggest challenge YOU feel your company faces, and how do you inspire your employees to meet it head on?

Our team works on the basis of one big family, who all work together in order to achieve the same goal. Between the two farms we have 250 employees including managers for each department. This includes all the production, irrigation and spray teams, postharvest and packing along with transport. In the office we have a dedicated accounts and sales department that round off our team. Our biggest challenge in my opinion is to keep building upon what we’ve already achieved and ensure that we make the most of every day given. Our company focuses on a personal touch, being involved and not being too big. As soon as everyone believes in the passion it will filter through into the plants and back to all of us working here. Another big challenge is to making everyone, including the markets, to understand what we’re about, our passion and drive to continuously produce a premium product.

Where do you think the most significant growth will occur in the flower sector for the next few years? Acreage, technology or market? What changes do you see the sector in the next 5 and 10 years? What advice do you have for growers to prepare for these changes?

I think there are those of us who are willing to change, due to necessity or to re-shape the business into something better, and then there are those who want to hold on to a formula that works for them and carry on that way forever. The problem with the latter is that, well, no one can honestly say they know where the industry is going. I would like to speculate though, and say that I do believe that one place it is going, is up. How we get there and if all of us will be able to continue with the pace of which changes are happening, is anyone’s guess. In answer to your question about acreage, yes there are more farms starting every year. Will this affect us? Yes of course. Is this large increase of land under green houses self sustainable? We’ll have to wait and see. Unfortunately I think Kenya is more acreage driven, and there needs to be more focus on technology, research and markets.

What is your personal work ethic, and how does this affect the company culture?

If you simply set out to crunch numbers, counting the stems coming out of your farm, you might as well go and farm wheat. That said, we are all here to secure some form of legacy, but if you don’t enjoy what you are doing, if it’s not your passion, in every part; from pre to post production, then why do it? I feel very grateful for being paid to do what I love doing. With this in mind I believe it filters through to each person I work with and shows in the plants we grow. A happy plant is made by looking after the soil it is planted in, the hands that works on pruning and picking that plant. Finally this leads to a self sustainable symbiotic relationship between everyone on the farm. A happy plant will produce more top quality stems for a longer time.

What decisions have you made in your career that you look back on feel where mistakes?

Simply, not always taking the time to see how the business is growing. The biggest mistake can be said to irrationally and not with the correct research being done.

What have you learned from them?

To make sure I occasionally stop to smell the roses.

What are the 3 most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from and/or that got you where you are?

Firstly it was being able to study film making in order to give me perspective about creativity. Secondly, I focused on structure, whilst working as a draftsman at an architectural firm. This made me realize that I need to be outside in nature which brought me to study Viticulture as the third pivotal moment. All of these moments brought me to where I am today, being able to lend a different touch to growing roses in our own way, by understanding the complete dynamics of your business will hopefully serve to get you to achieve your goals.

Describe your ordinary day? Do you still have enough personal time?

My days differ from week to week, and let’s face it, for all those growers reading this, no one day is the same as the last. There are always new challenges rising that need creative ideas in order to be solved. So an average Tuesday kind of goes like this, my department managers and I have a short meeting at 7:25. I then do a walk around through all the green houses touching base with all the departments. Then I have tea and breakfast at about 10:30 and then try to make a round in the office to check and reply to emails.

The rest of the day I focus my time in a department. Today I worked with the mamas in the green houses. On shipping days I go to the office in the afternoon and check in with the sales team for boxes to be shipped the next day. I usually get home around six. On some weeks I join the spray team early in the morning as they start their day at 6am. All these occurrences stay constant but as a general manager there are always things to pay attention to that can throw things out of sync, so I guess it’s safe to say, I try and take Saturdays off, but besides that I’m pretty much around on the farm.

Give your final comments.

As mentioned before we need to focus on being more quality orientated than volume orientated to establish ourselves and Kenya as a very good brand. Most of us are Auction members and want to blame the auction for our markets being under pressure. But we are our own worst enemy if we do not think more sustainably for the right reasons and not short term. Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but production calls and I have to get out there. Thank you for taking the time to come and visit us and find out what makes us tick. You’re welcome back any time.