Coronavirus and the Farms

Friday, 27th March 2020

We are in unprecedented times with the Covid-19 pandemic. The flower industry in Kenya has been severely hit. Auction farms have stopped sending their product as the auctions in Holland are closed. Direct sales farms, the category we fall in to, still have a trickle of orders coming through from Europe. For this we are thankful. It enables us to keep the farms open with a skeleton crew looking after the plants and harvesting and grading them.

We are determined to serve our markets as best we can and maintain a quality product. Operations in the field have been adapted with a reduced work force. Priority has been given to harvesting the stems for which we have orders, at the correct stage of opening for our markets. These stems are being taken to Nini’s grading hall. We have had to close down Lamorna’s grading hall in order to reduce costs across the group and reduce the number of people on the farms and hence movement of people to try and help curtail this virus. All other stems ready for picking are harvested and thrown away. This is devastating but unavoidable.

Image 1: Stems to be thrown away post harvestStems to be thrown away post harvest

We have implemented many measures to assist in the health and safety of our staff from training by our nurses about the symptoms, methods of spread of the virus and what we can do to reduce our chances of contracting it. We have enhanced farm hygiene. Hand sanitisers and additional taps and soap have been placed in strategic positions easily accessible by all. The buses are carrying a reduced number of people so everyone can maintain safe distances from each other. No unauthorised personnel are permitted entry to the farms. All equipment and vehicles are regularly disinfected.

Image 2: The nurse training staff on Covid-19 The nurse training staff on Covid-19

Everyday our senior management team meets to discuss orders, staffing, and procedures to be actioned should we be faced with certain challenges beyond our control. The latter includes a full country lockdown. Should this happen in Kenya, it will be catastrophic for the country, its people and its economy. There will be hundreds of thousands of unemployed people. As we have no social security, it would not take long for this to lead to civil unrest. Our president, Uhuru Kenyatta, is really trying to protect the population. He has introduced a curfew and we have adapted our modus operandi to make sure we adhere to this curfew.

A total lockdown for us would mean closing the farm gates and keeping a skeleton crew on the farms to water and feed the crops. We would house these few people and feed them. We would have to stop paying all other staff as there would be no income. We may or may not survive. This would entirely depend upon how long a lockdown would continue for.

A further challenge we could be faced with which could end our business, would be no orders for our flowers or not being paid on time for the confirmed orders we are having and sending. As the group’s income has fallen by at least 60%, we have already had to make tough decisions in order to survive and safeguard jobs for all our staff. As from April 1st, all our staff will be on half pay and hence only work 14 days in a month, then have 14 days of unpaid leave. We have implemented this for a four-month period in the hope that things will slowly return to normal. However, no one knows whether this is realistic or not. Our staff have been incredibly understanding and have accepted this. We are truly thankful to them.

Normally the Fair Trade income from both farms, goes to:

  • Help staff with further education
  • Help educate the children of our staff
  • Assist in the building of schools and creches etc

However, until we are over this crisis, all staff will receive an equal allowance at the end of each month from Fair Trade funds to help feed themselves and their families.

The floricultural industry in Kenya employs over 100,000 people directly and impacts the lives of over 2 million people. Currently, as tourism has ceased and diaspora has reduced considerably, this is one of the few industries still bringing foreign income to Kenya. Kenya needs this to survive.

So please, if you are reading this, KEEP BUYING FLOWERS!

We are determined to survive this crisis and safeguard our staff plus their dependents, but we cannot do this without orders.