A Passion for Flowers

Sustainability is as much about a mind-set that considersthe future impact of the daily decisions we make in our businesses as it is about supporting and undertaking projects that contribute to enhance our natural and social environment.

Tell us about Richard Fox
Richard Fox is the Chairman Kenya Flower Council &Sustainability Director for Finlays Horticulture Kenya Ltd. For the past 25 years he has been extensively involved in the Kenyan horticultural sector, and has played a leading role in the promotion of socially and environmentally sustainable business practises in the industry.

In 2011, he was appointed Chairman of Imarisha Naivasha, a multi-stakeholder forum set up by the Kenya Government to oversee a coordinated landscape approach to long term sustainable development in the Naivasha basin, the hub of Kenya’s floriculture industry. Richard is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. He is currently Chairman of the Kenya Flower Council and Lake Naivasha Growers Group and a trustee of Imarisha Naivasha. Chairman Kenya Flower Council

Briefly Discuss the Floriculture industry in Kenya
I think we are all familiar with the regularly quoted statistics of what our industry adds to the Kenyan economy. I’m happy to repeat them here because as an industry we should be proud of the contribution we are making.

Floriculture represents almost 10% of all exports and about 50% of agricultural exports and contributes just over 1% of GDP. About 80% of our flower exports go to the EU.

The sector is a major employer impacting on the lives of over 2million Kenyans. Our industry is a leading example of a private sector initiative that has taken a primary product and progressively added value through innovation and marketing. We have a reputation for quality and compete successfully with other producing countries in a highly competitive world market. We have an ideal climate for all round production but most of all the success of the industry is built upon our human capital, our Kenyan employees who have grasped the opportunity for improvement through education that is made available in Kenya and have proved to be eager to learn and work hard.

How can we Secure and Sustain our Markets
EU remains the main market for us an interesting statistic revealed that 75% of the total consumption of worldwide floricultural production occurs in the EU, Japan and the US. Clearly this demonstrates where the opportunities lie elsewhere in the world. We heard about opportunities in Dubai and China.

China’s involvement in our economy is seen everywhere particularly in communication infrastructure and building and is very welcome. Kenya’s exports to China amount to about KShs4billion whilst China exports to Kenya are valued at over KShs264billion. This is a massive trade imbalance not assisted from our perspective by imposition of an import duty on flowers of 4%. Clearly China has huge potential for our products but we need the support of government to unlock market access and we can do the rest.

So going forward, with need to work with government to look beyond our traditional markets.

But whilst we can measure success on past performance where is the industry heading and what challenges do we face going forward?
I mentioned that historically our market has mainly been to the EU and I would like to commend the tireless efforts of His Excellency the President and the CS and PS Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives made to reach agreement with other EAC countries to sign up to the EPA which offers long term certainty in our trading relationship with the EU and goes much further than providing market access.

Equally I’m proud of the role that KFC and our sister organisation in Brussels Union Fleurs has played to facilitate the eventual signing of the EPA by Kenya and Rwanda in Brussels in September last year. For now Kenya has continued market access to the European Market on a duty free and quota free basis through the MAR but we must continue our joint efforts with government to encourage the remaining three EAC countries to follow Kenya and Rwanda to sign and ratify the EPA that was originally initialled by all EAC partner states in 2016.

You are the Chairman Kenya Flower Council, tell us about it.
The Kenya Flower Council is a voluntary association of independent growers and exporters of cut-flowers and ornamentals, established in 1996, with the aim of fostering responsible and safe production of cut flowers in Kenya with due consideration of workers welfare and protection of the environment.

Against this background the Council has become the focal point for industry representation, promotion, and compliance to pertinent local and international standards deemed necessary to secure, expand and sustain markets. It draws its membership from producer members and associate members.

Kenya Flower Council Membership includes small, medium and large flower growers spanning from 0.25 acres to 230 hectares, in line with our strategic plan to ensure an all-inclusive representation of the floriculture industry.

On behalf of Members, the Council liaises with governments, development agencies, media, trade bodies, unions, civil society, non-governmental organizations, partners, market organizations and other stakeholders on specific sector issues to create an enabling environment for the floriculture industry locally and abroad.

The Kenya Flower Council Certification Scheme is guided by an Accredited Quality System Regulations that defines the management, auditing and certification process. Producer Members subscribe to the Flowers and Ornamentals Sustainability Standard (F.O.S.S) audited annually.

Producers are awarded either Silver or Gold Certificate after complying with all the requirements of the certification category applied for.

KFC is guided by the values of integrity, transparency, accountability competency and professionalism

KFC represents roughly 70%. How about the other 30%?
Some growers are able to access export markets that don’t demand any form of certification. Sadly it is the activities and practices of a handful of these exporters that from time to time have tarnished the reputation of our industry and hindered the promotion of Kenya as a source of quality and sustainably produced flowers to the world markets.

Some may say, why just not maintain the status quo and follow what the markets have required in the past. In response I would say that our industry’s interests are best served by an active national trade organisation which has achieved much more than establishing the Silver Standard.

Such activities include trade negotiations, market access, EPA, cess, SPSS issues, and representation of the industry in national and international forums.

Has the KFC Silver standard become international?
Over the last 21 years the Council has continually reviewed the Standard in line with emerging issues, and we are proud to note the standard is now internationally recognized through the FSI and the ITC standards map.

The Kenya flower Council through Union Fleurs has participated in this initiative over the past 4 years and the output from FSI show that the KFC Silver Standard meets and exceeds to benchmark set by the international floriculture trade. This is extremely good news for Kenya growers who for many years have been forced by the markets to comply with numerous industry standard at significant costs to our businesses.

Now we need to persuade the markets that KFC Silver more than meets their needs.

This is a significant boost for the Kenya flower Council and truly internationalises our standard.

The Kenya Flower Council Silver Standard has been developed over the last 20 years and as you have seen it is now one of only three standards that have been reviewed through the FSI process to meet both the social and environmental benchmark set by by the international floriculture sector.

Already customers are beginning to recognise that the KFC Silver more than meets their certification requirements. Ultimately adoption of KFC Silver as their preferred standard for product from Kenya will avoid duplication and reduce business costs.

Having an internationally recognised industry standard goes a long way to establish a Kenya brand of sustainably produced flowers in a market where our reputation for quality is already highly regarded. KFC growers and exporters represent about 70% of flowers exported from Kenya.

What has this done for our sector?
We are all aware that over time the markets have imposed their preferred standards, either their own or some other industry standard. This has resulted in many exporters requiring multiple certifications and consequent higher costs of doing business.

Now we have an opportunity to say to the markets, you can compare your traditionally preferred standard with the Kenya Silver Standard and you will find that it is comparable and in many areas exceeds the requirements of your preferred standard.

KEBS has revised KS1758. Briefly Discuss its impact to the industry
There has also been some excellent work done by KFC with Kenya Bureau of Standards supported by USAID to revise and update the national standard for horticulture KS1758. This will be launched in July.

It will bring into the fold of compliance those exporters who have resisted certification and have found markets that do not demand it. Whilst these few may argue that they do enough to meet their particular market requirements it is not enough to protect Kenya’s reputation as a source of quality sustainably produced flowers. We want to present our product as Brand Kenya flowers and all that goes with it. By making compliance to at least KS1758 standard for all exporters a condition for the issue of an export licence.

The industry wants to see compliance with KS1758, established through a comprehensive third party audit, as a mandatory requirement to be issued with an export licence. This will protect the industry as a whole and create uniformity in sustainable practices that we can present to the markets as Brand Kenya product.

I would hope that we can take away a commitment from Government that this is indeed one of the outputs of re-launching KS1758 as our national standard.

And to take this to its logical conclusion we should seek support for KS1758 to be benchmarked through FSI and look forward to it joining the KFC silver standard in the basket of standards meeting internationally benchmarked environmental and social criteria. And just as a final point, KFC Silver Standard members will automatically comply with KS1758.

Why should buyers be assured of quality flowers.
We’ve heard about the updated national Kenya standard KS1758 and the role that KEPHIS has in ensuring that our products meet the SPSS standards in our markets. We’ve also seen how the FSI project has formulated an equivalency tool to compare the numerous standards that the international floricultural industry has to grapple with and how our own Silver Standard emerges as one of the leading standards reviewed.

Of course standards are a means to measure sustainable practice through  compliance, provided compliance is established through a comprehensive and independent audit process.

Recently you hosted a sustainability conference, kindly discuss.
I think we all know the traditional definition of sustainability that links what we do now to potential negative impacts in the future. Therefore to strive to meet the goal of sustainability we should seek to ensure that our activities have at best a neutral impact on the environment and preferably our activities should contribute to an improvement.

My own view is that sustainability is as much about a mind-set that considers the future impact of the daily decisions we make in our businesses as it is about supporting and undertaking projects that contribute to enhance our natural and social environment. You noticed that the schedule of topics were drawn from the experience and expertise of people engaged in a very broad scope of our supply chain.

What is sustainable practice in floriculture.
Sustainable practice in our sector is not just about growing. It involves governance, regulation, logistics, human capital, marketing and distribution. Beyond what we do have some influence over, it also extends to involve customer choice and eventually the disposal of what we put all this effort into producing.

How shall we measure success of the conference?
Well I hope that growers will take away with them a wider perspective of the challenges regarding sustainability throughout the supply chain of our industry. In addition I hope it stimulated a view or thought on how your own business or involvement in the floriculture sector might be able to engage to address sustainability. And equally importantly, how through this engagement our industry can be made more efficient and profitable.

I believe that if the floriculture industry views sustainability as an opportunity rather than a threat to improve profitability and minimise business risks,then it will readily respond to the challenge.

Discuss any Government support to the industry.
Whilst the floriculture industry is proud of its performance in the Kenya economy as an example of private sector entrepreneurship, we must not forget that we could not have achieved this without the support of our regulatory organisations from Government.

I’ve already mentioned KEBS and our Trade Ministry. Equally KEPHIS, HCD and the Ministry of Agriculture have created an enabling environment for us to operate successfully. The relationship with these arms of Government has developed into one of private public sector cooperation which is good for business. We are finding our feet with relationships with the county administrations. Our CEO Jane Ngige has put a great deal of effort into promoting KS1758 and the national tracebility system with the county governments and I’m sure as we move into the second cycle of their mandate we will continue to grow their support.

Your Final Comments.
In conclusion, the floriculture industry is in a good place. We have had and will continue to have challenges but we shall meet and overcome them. This industry has changed enormously over the past 25 years or more and we operate in a highly competitive price focussed world market that is particularly sensitive to exchange rate fluctuations and input costs. It is not easy doing business. Recognition of this will enable us to continue to play a leading role in the Kenyan economy, expand and create more jobs.