• Kenya has 46 Fairtrade certified growers, with about 42,000 workers, making up majority of the Fairtrade Flowers exporters to Fairtrade Flower markets in Europe.
• Out of the more than 100,000 flower farm workers in Kenya, nearly 54,000 are said to be employed on casual basis.
Three years ago, P. Murimi left home for Naivasha in search of employment.
A neighbor had told him about employment opportunities in the flower farms dotting the shores of Lake Naivasha, a renowned Kenya’s horticultural hub.
Having tried his luck in joining the disciplined forces for over four years, without success, the now father of three decided to give a shot at the roses.
He left his home in Kurunyere village, Kuria West for Naivasha where a friend introduced him to one of the flower farms manager.
The next day, he was picking roses and pondering how the job would enable him support his wife and children back at home.
He would however not last long in the field as he explains: “After saving for about one year, i decided to come back home and venture into the retail space. The pay wasnt much but it was better than staying in the village " Murimi narrated during our interview.
He now runs a small retail shop at a centre called Mabera, along the Migori–Isebania Highway.
For Ann Wangui, she has been in employment at one of the flower farms for over seven year.
The mother of one who lives in the Karagita informal settlement along the Moi South Lake road, takes home Sh12,500 at the end of the month.
“I started with Sh7,000 which has now increased to the current pay. It is not much but we thank God for everything and keep hoping for the best,” she said.
Out of the more than 100,000 flower farm workers in Kenya, nearly 54,000 are said to be employed on casual basis with the lowest getting a starting salary of between Sh7,000 and Sh10,000 with allowances.
This is below the minimum wages in Kenya which are Sh15,120, having increased from Sh13, 572 in 2021.
According to Fairtrade Africa, workers in the flower sector remain the lowest paid at Sh7,873 base wage, which is four times lower when compared to remuneration within the agriculture sector in Kenya, based on the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs).
Wages in the poultry sector are at Sh12, 228, macadamia, blueberries, avocado, livestock and forestry are at Sh14, 544, tea sector (Sh17,921) and pineapple at Sh31, 711per month, respectively.
“One of the fundamental human rights is the right to a just remuneration that ensures an existence worthy of human dignity. In Kenya and many other origins of Fairtrade products, we think it is advisable to regularly review and update minimum wages where statutory minimum wages have not kept up with costs of living,” says Gonzaga Mungai, regional programme manager, Flowers at Fairtrade Africa.
Fairtrade challenges conventional trade practices, to enable farmers and workers to have more control over their lives and decide how to invest in their future.
It sets social, economic and environmental standards for the companies and farmers involved in the supply chain.
For farmers and workers, the standards include protection of workers’ rights (including decent pay, working conditions and freedom of association) and the environment.
For companies, they include the payment of the Fairtrade minimum price safety net and an additional Fairtrade premium for social development and empowerment of farmers and workers.
In 2022, the Anker Research Institute estimated that the costs for a basic but decent standard of living in Naivasha were Sh32,488, meaning majority of workers are struggling.
“When wages become grossly inadequate to afford a decent standard of living,subsequent unrest and instability can deter outside investment. There is proven causality between adequate remuneration, good health, social stability and productivity,” said Mungai.
Fairtrade works with certified farms to ensure decent working conditions for their employees and to help protect workers’ rights.
These rights include economic, environmental and social standards (such as requiring farms to have gender committees and preventing use of pesticides) as well as collaborating with workers to make their voices heard.
It started certifying flower plantations in the year 2001, with the formulation of the Fairtrade Standards for Flowers. This allowed the initial growers to be certified by Fairtrade, and the number of producers and market has been growing since.
The number of workers impacted by Fairtrade depends on the number of Fairtrade certified growers.
Currently, the programme impacts about 67,000 workers from 72 Fairtrade Certified Flowers growers globally.
Kenya has 46 certified growers, with about 42,000 workers, making up majority of the Fairtrade Flowers exporters to Fairtrade Flower markets in Europe.
“We have 74 Fairtrade Certified Farms from seven countries globally, mainly exporting cut flowers and young plants to Europe,” Mungai told the Star.
Majority of the growers are from East Africa (46 Kenya, eight Uganda and seven Ethiopia).
Other areas it has producers include Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ecuador, and El Salvador.
Kenya is the fourth largest global cut flower producer accounting for seven per cent of the export market after the Netherlands (52%), Colombia (Sh15%) and Ecuador (9%).
Last year, earnings from cut flowers exports reduced by 6.5 per cent to Sh103.6 billion, the Economic Survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicates, down from 110.8 billion in 2021.
In spite of the decline, cut flowers continued to dominate fresh horticultural exports accounting for 70.9 per cent of the total fresh horticultural export earnings in 2022.
The value of domestic exports of horticultural products decreased by 8.1 per cent to Sh152.3 billion, from Sh165.6 billion in 2021.
“The decline in horticultural exports was partly attributed to high inflation in the European Union region, the primary destination for cut flowers, fruits and vegetables,’ KNBS says in the report.
This is a clear indication that the floriculture sector is bringing the country a lot of money in terms of foreign exchange, but majority of workers continue to languish in poverty.
According to the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU), there is a rising trend by some flower farmers in Naivasha to employ workers on seasonal contracts.
The union has since termed the exercise which is meant to tame the rising wage bill as illegal, noting that it locks the workers from getting any annual pay rise or retirement benefits.
“We have seen cases where investors are employing workers on a seasonal basis meaning that they cannot get the annual pay rise or leave as per the labour laws,”KPAWU secretary-general, Naivasha branch, Ferdinand Juma, said.
An expert in the sector, Samson Okumu, however notes that the harsh economic times mainly in Europe have eroded the purchasing powers of consumers and hence the budgetary cuts by the farmers.
“Gone are the days that flower farmers used to make millions in profit and many are barely surviving with the new taxes and rising cost of farm inputs worsening the situation,” he said.
Fairtrade Africa also notes there are many factors that have affected the floriculture sector in general, starting from post covid effects to the current economic global situation.
The flower market has been on the decline with inflation across Europe, and there is a lot of price pressure to keep prices low by consumers, the organisation says.
In addition, the high forex rates and taxation is having a direct impact on the input costs, mainly fertilisers and energy and overall cost of doing business in Kenya. Therefore higher forex rate earnings may not directly lead to higher profits.
Even so, it calls on companies to remain responsible with the interest of workers at heart.
“Our main principle when it comes to workers should be based on what is best for workers, recognising the importance of employment and other pillars of decent work,” Mungai said.
He added: “Companies can therefore ensure proper working environment for workers by following the requirements provided in our Fairtrade standards to empower workers by ensuring they pay decent wages, guarantee the right to join trade unions, and make certain that health, safety and environmental principles are adhered to within their operations.”
Within Fairtrade certified farms, workers can further use these premium payments to invest in education, income diversification projects, community infrastructure and other social projects that enhance their overall welfare.
To set adequate minimum wages, technical support can also be solicited from the Wage Group of the International Labour Organisation.
Kenya is nevertheless doing better when compared to neighbouring countries of Uganda and Tanzania, where workers in Kenya are earning higher wages.
The growing flower sector in Ethiopia and Uganda has been without effective minimum wage protection and general wages are below international poverty lines in both countries, Fairtrade notes.
Standards require that farms should not pay workers below the World Bank poverty line, currently revised to $2.15 (Sh297.45) per day.
Kenya’s CBA’s have at least been above the poverty line defined by the World Bank.
The global cut flower trade is estimated to be worth more than £88 million (about Sh15billion) a year.
Most flowers are produced on commercial farms and provide employment opportunities and improved livelihoods for millions of workers.
The flower trade also brings in foreign exchange for investment in economic development.
For example, Kenya’s flower industry provides vital income for over 150,000 people.
However, the flower industry’s workforce still face limited access to education, poor working and housing conditions, low wages and repression.