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About two million Kenyans are food insecure. In Nairobi, up to 20 per cent of the population is ultra hungry, researchers tell us. Farmers responsible for feeding the country are still struggling with access to seeds, government subsidized agro inputs, diseases and pests and emerging threats like climate change.

Ironically Kenya is endowed with large swathes of green fertile land, favourable climate and a highly entrepreneurial population with institutions like the Food and Agricultural Organisation classifying the country’s land as so verdant, so lush and so capable of generating food that it could, alone, be the agricultural supply station for most of Africa. The World Bank on the other hand through numerous studies shows Kenyan farmers among the most important in developing countries capable of creating a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 if they expanded their access to more capital, better technology, irrigated land and grow high-value nutritious foods.

SoliQ Air, a specialist high performance flower packaging product has established its global roots into the Kenya Flower sector in just a little under two years. Today, unlike at the time of introduction when Silpack’s Director Parit Shah, had a challenging time convincing flower farms to try the SoliQ Air cartons, they are marketing themselves, thanks to their delivery of savings.

Mr. Shah says investment in the SoliQ Air cartons, whose core values are quality, innovation, savings and consistency is paying dividends for the sector.

This, he notes, is attested by its ever increasing orders as well as growing client base.“When we introduced this product I had a challenge marketing it. The concept would be dismissed as creative marketing. This perception has fundamentally changed. More and more farms are making enquiries and subsequently place orders with us,” points out Mr. Shah.

Silpack Industries Limited today supplies the high quality cartons to 15 of the top flower farms in the country. An impressive growth in a marketplace spoilt for choice of carton suppliers. The key to the rapid success is underpinned by the commitment Silpack has given to the core values of the.

The Director believes for the most part, the growth in the client base has resulted from the end customers of the flower farms’, especially in Russia, Far East and Europe being particular that they wanted their flowers packaged in SoliQ Air branded cartons.

Mr. Shah notes that in the flower business where the end-buyer is keen on getting flowers efficiently and without waste, SoliQ Air cartons are being preferred in like for like comparisons. The key lies in the high performance fibre that goes into the paper, making them stronger and more durable when compared to their peers.

“Globally, SoliQ has been synonymous with reducing wastage, which has always been the underlying factor. It is a brand that has come of age after primarily starting in the fresh produce industry. SoliQ Air, created for the flowers going to auction, where it impressively delivered on its core values, is now increasingly being used by players in direct sales,” Mr. Shah observes.

But perhaps the biggest benefit that clients have realised from using the SoliQ Air boxes is savings in terms of money. According to Mr. Shah, exporters have confirmed a saving in freight costs. Additionally, he says that feedback also indicated that their clients have noted significant reductions in wastage claims.

Strategic partnerships
Over the years the Silpack has cultivated partnerships with organisations which are foremost authorities in the field of cold chain. Globally one key partnership is with Paccess Packaging, a US-based subsidiary of Billerud Korsnas, providing global brand owners with world-class knowledge and experience within packaging design, development, and sourcing. The results of these partnerships have allowed growers and to reduce supply chain waste and time-to-market costs.

Moving forward, Silpack intends to make SoliQ Air boxes even better by focusing on innovative ways of dealing with other challenges of ethylene and moisture control in the cold chain. In this, they are working with a number of growers to ensure the final product will be delivering on the core values of quality, innovation, savings and consistency. Mr. Shah also says that a new box design, that he terms as revolutionary, is also in the pipeline.

“Flower and fresh produce packaging has changed more in the last two years than it did in the prior fifteen years. Silpack is currently investing in innovation to ensure that we do not have to wait another fifteen years to introduce further savings and benefits for our growers to make them more competitive in the global marketplace. We eagerly wait to introduce at least three new products in the near future!” Parit says with a smile.

After the success in the flower industry, Silpack is eager to replicate the same in other horticultural subsectors.

“We are confident that the vegetable and fruit exporters will benefit from the same winning qualities from SoliQ boxes,” Mr. Shah points out.

Thrips, order Thysanoptera, are tiny, slender insects with fringed wings. They feed by puncturing the epidermal (outer) layer of host tissue and sucking out the cell contents, which results in stippling, discolored flecking, or silvering of the leaf surface. Thrips feeding is usually accompanied by black varnishlike flecks of frass (excrement).

Pest species are plant feeders that discolor and scar leaf, flower, and fruit surfaces, and distort plant parts or vector plant pathogens. Many species of thrips feed on fungal spores and pollen and are often innocuous. However, pollen feeding on plants such as orchids and African violets can leave unsightly pollen deposits and may reduce flower longevity. Certain thrips are beneficial predators that feed on other insects and mites.

The crop protection industry is dominated by the large multinational agro-chemical companies such as Syngenta, Monsanto and Bayer Cropscience. The biocontrol business is minute in comparison, with only 3% of global sales of crop protection products. The future of the biocontrol industry is based on a range of interacting factors and difficult to predict the future, however many are suggesting that its future is likely to grow. There are numerous drivers for the use of biological control.

Pesticide resistance.
Whether a pest or a disease, most organisms have the ability to become resistant to a large range of pesticides. This is often seen in the field where one season a particular pesticide works well and later the efficacy is not there. Resistance has been reported in many common groups of insecticides and fungicides.

Briefly discuss Barnaba Rotich (Background-Personal and a professional)
My love for farming started way back when I was a little kid. I was raised in a farm and as I was growing up I enjoyed playing with farm machineries and had fun during agricultural classes throughout primary and secondary school. So I was delighted when I got admitted to JKUAT to pursue a Bsc. Degree in Horticulture.

In December 2001 I did my last exam on a Friday and started work with Dudutech the following Monday and within one year I got promoted from Field Trials Officer to a Production Manager in charge of one line of insects and thereafter to the position of Production Coordinator in charge of all insect production lines. By March 2005, I was seconded to Dudutech’s sister company in South Africa to set up one of the biggest IPM projects in the Southern Africa at the time. I came back to Kenya after one year stint and took a new role as Technical Manager again in insect production and got promoted to Commercial &Technical Sales Manager a position I have been for 5 years.

This success has been attributed to many factors, key among them being the favourable climatic conditions around the equator, availability of educated and resourceful workforce, an economic climate that encourages internal and external investment, willingness to obtain knowledge and technical know-how from internal and external consultants, the ability to innovate rapidly and adopt new technology, and the market awareness and information to develop new products and add value.

New realities
One of the many challenges faced by Kenyan floriculture growers is the management of disease and insect/mite pests. The prevailing equatorial climate is the boon and bane of floriculture. The warm and sunny year round climate that favours flower production also favours pest growth and multiplication. Chemical pesticides have traditionally been employed to mitigate this threat.

However the stark reality of pesticide resistance, environmental pollution, loss of biodiversity and risks for human health has led to the recent rise of strong industrial lobby groups advocating for more environmentally friendly and socially acceptable pest management tactics. Individual customers, numerous certification schemes e.g. Fair Trade, Milieu Programma Sierteelt (MPS), GLOBALGAP (previously EUREPGAP), and the Kenya Flower Council’s silver and gold standards are placing restrictions on permitted pesticides. Furthermore, the flower industry has been the focus of several damaging media exposés and academic research documenting extensive human rights and environmental abuses.

Change of tack
These new realities are gradually forcing a change of tack, pressuring a transition to more ethical business practices and credible accreditation. A recent development has been the adoption of biological control (biocontrol), the deliberate release of an organism in an environment with the intention of keeping pest populations below economically injurious levels. Kenya is leading the world in the successful implementation of biocontrol in floriculture, hitherto un-heard of and un-thought of.

How did it happen?
The Kenyan government through its crop protection authorities, research institutions and the industry identified inappropriate regulation to be a major impediment to adoption of biocontrol as biological control agents (BCAs) were initially registered under the same legislation as conventional pesticides. Landmark legislative framework for the use of natural pest control products including natural enemies, biopesticides, botanical pesticides and semiochemicals was developed in 2003. This enabled Kenyan companies to start mass production of biocontrol agents for major horticultural pests, sorting out the challenges of affordability and accessibility. The Kenyan premier biocontrol company, Dudutech, pioneered the Kenyan mass BCA production and remains a market leader in the production and distribution of BCAs used in management of various pests and diseases in Kenya and beyond.

The huge successes in the biological control of spider mites in roses and leaf miners in peas realized from this pioneering work catapulted biocontrol to the limelight as a viable alternative pest management tactic leading to rapid increase in adoption. These two success stories were mainly driven by pesticide resistance and the scarcity of conventional pesticide products available to growers. Successful biological control in flowers provided the sector with adaptive tools to weather pesticide resistance as most pests are unable (or very slow) to develop resistance to biocontrols.

Training and technical expertise
As adoption of biocontrol rapidly increased, many growers were struggling with the dramatic transition required to shift a reactive pesticide-based control approach, often used for many decades, to one that requires a more proactive and patient approach even when pests are not yet visible in a crop.

Adopting biological control on a greenhouse flower farm requires many years of trials, a dedicated and committed management and staff to stick with it for the long term, a strong network of technical experts and a strong biocontrol sector that can provide the right tools needed by growers. Training, therefore, is an integral component as it engenders an increased capacity, confidence and willingness to change, to seek and adopt innovative technologies and best-practice management techniques.

Dudutech’s robust training department has over the years offered diverse courses on various aspects of environmentally intelligent farming methodologies to varied groups ranging from growers, consultants, and small-holder farmers, custodians of GAP standards in the industry like Kenya Flower Council (KFC) and consumers.

No silver bullets
History has taught us that there are no silver bullets in the fight against pests and biological control is no exception. While there is an acceptance that biocontrols can form the basis of most floricultural pest management programmes, they cannot be relied on completely for adequate pest management all the time and for all pests. Biocontrols need to be integrated with cultural, physical and chemical controls The bigger picture For the floriculture industry to surpass/sustain the success so far realized, one of the overarching goals must be adaptability and sustainability. This would ensure that the industry can anticipate and adjust to the dynamic external environments through innovation and institutional and physical infrastructure. Since biocontrol agents are living organisms, the interactions they have with the environment, the host plant and the target pest is very complicated.

This added to the complication of numerous flower varieties grown under numerous growing conditions make the permutations of biocontrol recommendations and technical advice become massive and very complex. Kenyan flower growers have proven to be great innovators, but they need a strong biocontrol research network to provide growers with unbiased technical advice.

Biological control has been shown to contribute to increased consumer demand for sustainably grown crops and has the potential of increasing Kenyan growers’ share of the market. Today’s sophisticated consumers are educated to recognize and request for flowers grown with minimal effects to the planet and its people. But the customers’ requirement for aesthetically perfect flowers continues to be a major hurdle to adoption of biological control. A marketing strategy that educates the supply chain, especially the retailers and consumers that a few blemishes on their flowers is a small price to pay for responsible growing needs to be developed.

The author is the Chief Trainer at Dudutech IPM Solutions

Electricity cost is one of the key expenses in any flower farm. With the fuel component playing a crucial role in determining each month’s charge in Kenya, it has become increasingly important for farms to look into ways of cutting down cost to protect their profit margin.

Speaking exclusively to Floriculture Magazine, Mr. Kumar Sheth, CEO Leda Africa Ltd said, “While some are installing alternative, but often costly sources of energy, such as solar panels, the solution is perhaps as simple as changing the type of bulbs they use”. Adding, “Led Africa Ltd, an Indian company believes the cure to their woes lies in using Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs”. The company believes in the simplistic approach so much so that it has taken up the slogan ‘Saving Energy for Africa’.

And this is why. Most institutions and homes across the country use the ordinary incandescent bulbs that emit a yellow light. Research has shown that they waste 95 per cent of the electricity they consume.

That essentially means for every five units that appear in the electricity bill, 19 more were wasted. These bulbs are cheap but can only light up for about 1,000 hours, which means farms using the latter have to buy 50 bulbs, replace them 50 times and throw 50 burned out bulbs in the garbage, all while still paying high electricity bills. On the other hand LED bulbs, though slightly expensive to buy, take up to three years to burn out. The amount of money saved is enormous. For instance a 10 Watt bulb can operate for 50,000 hours and only consume about Sh4,700 according to research. But it is not solely for their longevity that Led Africa is staking its reputation on the LED bulbs. One of its objectives is to reduce the carbon footprint which is major cause of global warming.

The company says that unlike the ordinary bulb, LED bulbs production releases far much lesser amount of carbon dioxide in the environment. These means the farms that use them can be eligible to earn carbon credits. The bulbs are also environmentally friendly in that by not regularly requiring replacement, they don’t contribute to land fill as a result of disposal and they do not contain harmful ultraviolet rays and gases.

But the bulbs are not only advisable for use farms. Breeders and propagators too stand to save a pretty penny by using them. Broad spectrum grow lights produce a lot of light that plants can’t use efficiently. LED grow lights on the other hand only deliver the colours of light used by plants for efficient and healthy growth.

What’s more, the LED grow lights are warm to touch and won’t scotch young or tender plants as other forms of lighting can. And most of them operate at just a few degrees above room temperature thus reducing a breeders grow room cooling costs. Even better, with their low heat emission, it means growing plants won’t need to be watered so often given that they will transpire less. They can therefore be left unattended for a few days as workers concentrate their energies elsewhere.

The company manufactures flood, spot, tube, bay and panel lights to serve a farm’s all round lighting needs. It has set a target to change every bulb on the continent to the efficient and environment friendly LED.