July 21, 2020 / 9:12 AM / 20 days ago

Kenya's flower industry rebounds as lockdowns ease

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Demand for Kenya’s flowers has recovered to around 85% of pre-coronavirus levels as European markets open up after lockdowns, an industry body said, spurring hope that the industry could see a full rebound by next year.

A worker holds roses while wearing protective equipment to help fight against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the packing line at the Maridadi flower farm in Naivasha, Kenya, July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Kenyan farmers were forced to throw away millions of roses in March as Europe sealed borders and residents put weddings and funerals on hold.

But demand is coming back as restrictions ease and growers are hoping it will recover fully by next year, said Clement Tulezi, chief executive of the Kenya Flower Council.

“We are better than we were two months ago, demand is almost at 85%,” Tulezi told Reuters. “From our major markets in Europe and elsewhere, we are seeing orders.”

Europe accounts for nearly 70% of Kenya’s cut flower exports and coronavirus restrictions had slashed daily orders by half, threatening thousands of jobs in East Africa’s richest economy.

Kenyan farmer Inder Nain, whose company Xflora group used to export 350,000 roses a day, saw exports plunge to 50,000 a day in March. Now, that’s rebounded to about 250,000, he said, and his 2,000 employees are back at work.

“We are seeing good and steady recovery,” Nain told Reuters.

Flower exports are one of Kenya’s top three foreign exchange earners and generated nearly a billion dollars in sales in 2019.

But like all nations, the coronavirus has battered the economy. Growth is projected to slow to 2.5% this year from 5.4% last year.

Flower sellers are still nervous about high freight costs caused by a drop in airline traffic and uncertainty over whether there will be a second coronavirus wave in Europe, Nain said.

“We are still throwing some flowers away but it’s quite different from when we were throwing every stem,” Nain said. “We hope by February the disease will be controlled and things will return to normal.”

But exporters also say they cannot fully meet demand, which will be seasonally high in September in Europe, because of limited cargo capacity and high freight costs.

“We are not sure freight capacity and costs will be moving in tandem with demand,” said Tulezi.

Reporting by Omar Mohammed; editing by Katharine Houreld and Giles Elgood

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