Unknown farmers far away in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi could be languishing in major losses following a cut in volume of their produce taken up by exporters and possibly have no explanation.
A silent but critical war between two major regional airlines; Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines is negatively impacting on farmers and exporters as the two carriers compete for routes dominance.
The first causalities of this fight between the two airlines are flower farmers in Kenya due to a drop in airline traffic in the wake of restrictions imposed on rival carriers to protect Kenya Airways.
Some Kenyan exporters source their flowers from as far as Rwanda and Uganda and Burundi in order to maintain a sound supply to European and Asian markets. Unlike Kenya, the weather in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi plus Eastern DRC favour floriculture.
Kenya Flower Council (KFC), the lobby for large-scale flower farms, says they need freight capacity of at least 5,000 tonnes a week against the 3,500 tonnes available.
“On average our members are dumping flowers equivalent to 25% of their produce because of the limited cargo capacity,” said Clement Tulezi, chief executive of the Kenya Flower Council.
“It’s unfortunate that this is happening when we have increased orders from our major markets in Europe and elsewhere.”
Globally, flowers represent an industry worth U$18bn.
Europe accounts for nearly 70% of Kenya’s cut flower exports and the limited cargo capacity and high freight costs are making it difficult for Kenya to serve this market, threatening thousands of jobs.
Kenya has said it will not approve additional freighters from Ethiopia Airlines after Addis refused to allow KQ to fly cargo directly to Europe from Bole International Airport, forcing the national carrier to route through Nairobi.
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said KQ has committed to increasing capacity and the government will approve any other carrier apart from Ethiopian Airlines to increase frequency from Nairobi to Europe.
“We met with the flower lobby and KQ and agreed that the national carrier will commit to increase capacity which they have confirmed in writing,” Mr Macharia said.
Mr Macharia said he has also asked the exporters to recommend other carriers to boost freight capacity from Nairobi and not Ethiopia Airlines.
“The only interest they are pushing is Ethiopian Airlines which we refused because they denied KQ flying from Addis to Europe, forcing us to fly back to Nairobi,” he said.
The Cabinet Secretary said that this week he approved requests of two airlines, including British Air.
Flower exporters are concerned the inadequate airfreight capacity in the middle of high season is hurting orders.
According to Rwanda’s National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) statistics, last year the country shipped out flowers worth U$7,908,025 of revenue collected from a volume of 1,193,834 kgs.