Beautiful pink flowers swing from side to side insync with a cool breeze blowing at the Maseno Agricultural Training Centre.
And as the flowers known as Celosia dance to the afternoon breeze, bees land on them to collect nectar that they ferry to their hives to make honey.
On the farm is Horticulture Crops Directorate western manager Florence Khaemba dressed in a cream blouse and a black skirt.
This is her pet project and on this day, she is scouting for any pests or diseases on the flowers.
The summer flowers, planted in two rows, stand tall and healthy, making Florence happy.
“I am confident that this project will succeed. We have planted this summer flower to demonstrate to farmers that it can do well in open fields in the region so that they can grow it,” says Florence, noting there is huge potential for summer flowers in western Kenya.
The flowers grow well in temperatures of up to 300 Celsius. In western, Florence says the summer flowers can grow well in various counties namely Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay, Migori, Kisii, Nyamira, Kakamega, Vihiga, Busia and Trans Nzoia.
Besides Celosia, other varieties of summer flowers that can do well in the region include Mobidique, Ammi, Arabicum, Cubarol, Ryngium, Allium, Claspedia, Mollucella, Scaboisa, Agapanthus, Ornis and lilies, a majority which are used in blending roses.
Blue Agapanthus, according to Florence, has been doing well in the European market.
Claspedia gets high demand during Mother’s Day celebration and is also used when making bouquets. The small headed yellow flower has shelf-life of one month.
“We have favourable temperature and humidity in western to help in fast maturity of the flowers. You don’t need greenhouses or shade nets to plant them,” says Florence.
CLIMATE FAVOURS FAST MATURITY
Summer flowers grow better in well-drained soils. The seedlings are planted at a spacing of 30cm by 60cm. She advises farmers to use organic manure, which retains moisture and helps in solving the acidity of the soil.
One advantage that farmers in the region have is the high temperatures that favour fast-maturity of summer flowers. The flowers mature in three months and are ready for export.
“We planted the Celosia flowers on May 17 on the demo farms, and they are now flowering in full bloom,” she says.
She asked farmers to invest in irrigations systems to have continuous supply of water for the flowers.
“It is essential to have uniform growth of the flower stalks. This calls for enough water supply. The longer the flower stalk, the better the quality.” Success of floriculture, according to her, begins with securing the market before planting the flowers on the field.
“The best approach is finding the buyer first in a system where you sell before you produce. Often the buyer will guide you on the right propagation for the flower depending on the end market,” says Florence.
“Every exporter has his own desired variety that suits the market demand. Usually, the farmer receives seeds, and chemicals on credit. So that by the time they start harvesting, the farmer pays back for the inputs,” she adds.
Florence says buyers like Wilmar Flowers are already interested in the venture. “Ours is to link farmers with buyers and make sure that they are protected from rogue buyers who exploit them.” The farmer and the buyer must have a contract. The contract entails the mode of business, if the buyer provides seeds, chemicals and other inputs, the price agreed, collection centres and transportation and mode of payment to the farmers.
Ken Abuya, the managing director of Carolina Flowers based in Kisumu, says the flower business has huge potential in western.
“We have seen the scandals that have surrounded the sugar industry. It’s about time farmers turn to floriculture for better returns because the market is available.”
He says summer flowers have low season between April and July, but the rest are peak seasons.
SITTING ON A GOLDMINE
Flowers of stalks of about 70cm qualify for grade one, are the most desired, says Florence, adding, “For flowers to stay in a vessel, you have to add water for it to remain fresh. If the stalk is very short, you will cut it twice before throwing it off.”
With the Kisumu and Eldoret international airports just a stone throw away, Florence reckons that farmers in the region are sitting on a gold mine.
“There is ready market for summer flowers in countries in Europe, Japan and Asian. But to access these markets, farmers have to be consistent in their supply.”
Initially, most summer flower farmers were grown in Kibos, Muhoroni and Nyakach in Kisumu County, and in Homa Bay, Siaya and Migori counties,” says Florence
“We had over 75 acres on summer flowers in western but farmers faced challenges in the cost of input, marketing and transportation. Very few now export flowers,” she says, adding flowers is sustainable business so long as one knows the market trends and the venture doesn’t require land tracts of land.
Get it fast
Pests and diseases
The pests farmers have to guard against include bollworms, thrips, aphids and the white flies.
Using Integrated Pest Management would help farmers control pest attacks on the flowers.
The IPM method involves using blue and yellow sticky traps placed strategically within the flower farm.
The blue traps attract thrips while the yellow one white flies and aphids.