Kisima Flower Company is known for producing stunning, colorful, exciting, quality flowers.
For 20 years they have been in production of commercial cut flowers, their clarion call being guided by integrity and observing how they grow their flowers. Over the years, they have managed to cultivate flowers while doing a lot of investment in water, the community around the farm and esthetics of where they grow flowers. With the key focus of the Timau-Meru based farm being social and environmental sustainability, this has culminated to the farm recently being awarded Kenya Flower Council Gold certification for their exemplary farming values.
The farm General Manager Craig Oulton on their 20th anniversary had an exclusive chat with Hortfresh Journal.
Twenty years of successive flower production is no mean feat, how has been the journey?
I would say quite challenging and at the same time proud that we have made these successful strides.
Kisima flower company is a large-scale farm that was founded in 1920, the floriculture department started in 2001 and has since expanded, to currently 22 hectares. Subsequent to that, there were several trials that were carried out to see whether Kisima’s unique climate and altitude could grow. Our first crop was lilies and there was a view of establishing roses cultivation which is now our core business. We have understood our market and we are big supporter of the auction market, selling our flowers exclusively through Fresco Flowers at their state of the art unpacking facility in Aalsmeer in the Netherlands.
Over the years, Kisima has operated on a profit situation, re-investing into capital projects. By re-investing we are looking at situation where we have a lot of flowers on the ground and then we don’t have a market, we always look at due diligence which is very important; study the market closely, which varieties to grow. We started with small headed roses, and we have evolved, so has the industry. The market now needs newer roses which are big headed and we have gone into much larger heads and longer stems. As the years have gone by, we were at a situation of competing with South America which is predominantly known for bigger heads which was not actually good for Kenya because of the cost of sending bulky flowers. We went back to small headed roses and now we are fully in large intermediate roses.
We grow summer flowers too!
Besides rose farming, we have 5 acres under summer flowers.
At the moment we specialize in growing,
Summer flowers are important to us. They thrive well in Kisima and the soil is fertile. For the 20 years we have learnt a lot on the way we grow flowers by having high end summer flowers.
Agronomy is one aspect that has come up. When we talk about agronomy we are simply talking about what our soils lack and what needs to be replenished. This has led us going into organic fertilizers and Kisima Flowers is great believer of letting nature do its course.
What are some of the capital projects that Kisima has been involved in and how have they shaped the business?
Our biggest investment has always been water; we have built 5 large lined lagoons to store our water and the capacity is huge. Every available area that we have and can store water we have always built a lagoon to complement our farming operations. The second capital we have invested in is the efficiency of our machinery. We have graduated from using a dosatron fertigation unit to using an MNC computerized system. Investing in this technology has led to better farm operations.
MNC is a system that has been programmed to give the exact nutrients the flowers need and it balances the elecctral conductivity and the PH of the soil. In conjunction with this, the company has a system called Aquacheck, its work primarily is to check the water circulation and temperatures of our soils. We have also intensified soil sampling to get a far more accurate picture of our soils. This is because people look at the flowers but fail to understand most activities are underneath to enable produce quality flowers.
There are so many variables to consider when growing flowers and you have to try and mitigate the problems you get. As Kisima Flowers got bigger due to the expansions, we increased our pack house. Capital has been invested in larger cold stores and cooling walls.
We have invested in strapping machines for our boxes during the packing process. We have also gone from using metallic pipes to using galvanized poling pipes that don’t leak or corrode. The other area is the community where money is put aside for canteen, clinic and classrooms this are some of the projects which are part of our capital expenditure.
You talk passionately about your staff, what has informed this?
Kisima Flowers strongly believes that our workers are the backbone of our business and therefore deserve to be treated as a family for the prosperity of the farm. We appreciate how hard they work and we have always felt the urge to walk with them in their journey as part of the Kisima Flowers fraternity. When we look at the journey for the 20 years we appreciate them, we have people who have been with us from the very beginning. A look at the larger Kisima family you find people who their families have worked here for 3 generations. We have lots of experience with our staff some of them have risen to supervisors and managers levels. They are big contributors to why Kisima is KFC gold certified. Investing in people you are creating awareness while educating them. Our pride of our people, pride of our environment is what pushes us and that is what the market requ
For the 20 years, what has it taken to produce quality flowers that are yearned for in the market?
Trends change in Europe very quickly and trialing of roses in Kisima is done for over two years before we put a rose in the ground. First of all, we have to understand the agronomy, understand how the flower grows then we have to understand its association with pests and diseases. The color, shape and after discovering it grows well, we send it to the market and we do focus groups to see if the clients love the flower and its put on a shelf life test to see if it lasts long enough.
Nowadays we do commercial trials which we never used to do in the past. We take like 100 plants from breeders in Kenya we grow them and if we like the variety and the agronomy is correct we send it to Holland, check the price and if it’s good we embark on their actual planting. The only way to survive in flower business is by growing quality flowers.
There has been an increase on on-line marketing, how has it defined Kisima Flowers way of doing business?
Everything nowadays is online and Covid-19 has rapidly accelerated it and now online we are able to see how our flowers are being sold, and how many sales have been made. On top of that, Kisima has a system called fresh portal, it’s a barcoding system for our flowers , when we pack a box we have a barcode put on the box and scanned. Our marketer, that is Fresco knows every flower variety and how many they are, while we are packing them. We can pre-sale our flowers while we are still packing them.
How are you finding the cost of doing flower business in Kenya?
Everything is inflation, particularly our freight cost which is our biggest cost. The cost of growing flowers is going up day by day in terms of inputs; fertilizers, chemicals, packaging materials among others but we have learnt to deal with it.
What are some of the major challenges you have faced as growers?
The major challenge has been weather; we used to predict the rain patterns but not anymore. For our summer flowers if we experience too much rain and hailstorms it affects the crop. We have had plagues of insects affecting our flowers like the locusts all this are brought about by weather. As a grower when you are breaking into a new land, the challenge is usually infrastructure; has the government put in good accessible roads.
Challenges are good by the way; they should never stress growers because we learn from them and develop alternative measures. For instance if we don’t have enough power we buy a generator that is efficient and install solar systems to mitigate on the challenge of electricity.
Going forward, where do you see Kisima Flowers and which advice do you offer to people who look up to Kisima Flowers as a benchmark?
We will always look at expansion, but however expanding flower farms is wholly dependent on availability of water. When our due diligence tells us that we have sustainable water even in our worst years to keep us going we will expand both on roses and summer flowers. My advice is for them to understand every single area of their flower farm, know the cost, be better and be consistent and always be looking for opportunities in the market for growing different varieties of flowers while being sustainable.
Story originaly appeared on: https://hortfreshjournal.com/kisima-flowers-on-their-20th-anniversary-going-strong/