By Treasure Nnabugwu
The Netherlands which is recognized as home to the world’s busiest flower auction is where thousands of flowers are purchased on a daily basis from across the world including Africa to be shipped globally. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, Aalsmeer just outside of Amsterdam has experienced deep cuts in flower sales. Michel van Schie of the Royal Flora Holland company revealed that flower sales dropped by 50 percent and is affecting the global floriculture industry.
“The coronavirus crisis which we are now facing couldn’t have come at a worse moment than this. Not only there were a lot of unsold flowers, but the flowers that were sold were also sold for very low prices,” van Schie said. With demand falling sharply globally, it presents bad news for Africa’s foremost flower producing countries who largely depend on flower exportation.
As Africa’s largest and the world’s third-largest exporter of cut flowers, Kenya’s flower exports add about $1 billion annually to the economy. It is the leading supplier of flowers to the European Union with a market share of 38 percent exporting over 160,000 tons of flowers every year. As the biggest employer of labor in the East African country, over 2 million people depend on the industry as a source of livelihood. However, with flower exports dropping by two-thirds in recent weeks it has cost the industry and the country millions in revenue.
Hosea Machuki, CEO of the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya, says the situation is critical. Machuki disclosed, “we have about 350,000 Kenyans directly employed and at the moment and about 200,000 are likely to lose their jobs on account of business loss.”
Nevertheless, Machuki is optimistic that when it’s all done industries and companies that are involved in the horticulture industry “will be able to spring back to life.”
Neighboring Ethiopia is the second-largest African flower exporter, and the horticulture sector is the country’s fourth-largest in export earnings. According to the Ethiopian Horticulture Producers Exports Association (EHPEA), the sector earned $280 million in the last fiscal year. But with COVID-19 lockdowns across many European countries coupled with the cancellation of international flights, Ethiopia is exporting only about 20 percent of its usual volume.
Frank Ammerlaan, a Dutch flower farmer in Ethiopia told VOA he noticed the effects immediately Europe was hit with the coronavirus. Ammerlaan unveiled, “the majority of our sales stop suddenly. And that’s because of shops in Europe being closed, borders being closed and logistics to give priority for food items and other essential items. So it was a big shock for us,” Ammerlaan who employs about 1,000 people with a majority of them of Ethiopian nationality said that business had dropped by 30 to 40 percent.
Some organizations such as the Fairtrade Foundation are working with local farms in Ethiopia and Kenya to provide additional financial support to more than 50,000 florist workers. Similarly, to prevent the Ethiopian flower industry from collapsing and to keep foreign exchange flowing into the country, the government has designated the sector as essential – meaning its companies and its estimated 150,000 workers can keep operating despite the state of emergency measures.
The floriculture sector is one of the biggest casualties of the coronavirus outbreak, however, for the industry to bounce back and stay afloat, governments need to adopt more stream-lined short-term policies and strategies to support the sector