, NAIVASHA, April 20 – Kenyan farmers were forced to dump tonnes of wilting flowers on Monday as Europe\’s airspace shutdown inflicted huge losses on one of the east African country\’s top export earners.
Workers at Schreur\’s Farm in the Rift Valley town of Naivasha tore open cartons, ripped plastic wrappers off delicate rose stems and dumped them into a pit.
Around 300,000 stems were returned earlier from the capital Nairobi, 100 kilometres away, as the farm fell victim to a cloud of ash sweeping Europe from a volcano in Iceland.
"We are not sure when the flights will resume and we shall keep destroying the flowers until the situation is back to normal," Schreur\’s director Haiko Becker said.
"The situation is not the best but things are beyond us and we have to continue production until things normalise."
The head of the Kenya flower Council Jane Ngige said the sector was losing around $2 million each day.
With most northern European airports remaining shut for a fifth day, the Kenyan farmers – who export roses and other cut flowers mainly to Holland – said they were trying to fly their produce to Spain and then truck them to the Netherlands, their main market.
"Once the flowers land in Vitoria in Spain, they will be trucked to Holland and it is very expensive," said Jack Kneppers, who runs Maridadi flower farm in Naivasha, Kenya\’s main flower producing centre.
Kneppers said their cold storage room was completely full and they were at loss over where to keep Monday\’s production from his 85-hectare farm, which has an output of between 160,000 to 180,000 rose stems daily for export to Holland.
"We have been promised that there will be another flight later in the day and this is our only hope as of now.
"In case this does not happen we shall have no alternative but to destroy that shipment," said Kneppers.
But even if the farmers manage to reach the markets via the longer and more expensive route, they fear the flowers will be wilted.
"The flowers will take too long to arrive in Holland and some of the facilities in Spain are not the best, but we have no otherwise," said Johan Reemeus, another producer.
The farmers remain helpless, being unable to instantly stop production as flower shoots continue to grow and blossom.
"At the moment we are not sure what next, but we hope that the flight cancellation will be lifted so that the flowers can reach the market in time," Reemeus explained.
Ngige said flower farm workers may also be asked to stay at home, although managers said they would not lay off staff.
"Though no farm has closed down, some workers will have to go on leave as the farmers re-organise themselves," Ngige said.
Kenya\’s flower sector had already suffered a slump in February, recording a 20 percent drop compared to last year, owing to a drop in demand in Europe following the economic downturn and a prolonged drought in Kenya.
Labour-intensive horticulture is one of Kenya\’s leading foreign exchange earners alongside tea and tourism, and employs an estimated three million people.
Kenya\’s national carrier Kenya Airways – also one of Africa\’s leading airlines – has been badly affected, with Europe-bound flights grounded and passengers stranded.