• Flower farm operations resume, virtually all workers recalled.
• But European flight charges have doubled, some farms will be forced to merge or close and cost-cutting expected.
Flower farms across the country have now resumed full operations and all workers have been recalled after closure caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The employers have honoured an agreement with Cotu to recall all the workers who were sent on unpaid leave.
The Kenya Plantations and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) said, all workers in Naivasha, which is home to tens of flower farms, had resumed duty. Kenya has about 100 flower farms.
Secretary general in Naivasha Ferdinand Juma said they were in talks with the farmers to make sure that all the workers on unpaid leave were back on the job.
“Around 98 per cent of the workers in the flower farms have resumed duty and we are in discussions with one of the farms to allow the remaining 300 to return,” he said.
A leading Naivasha farmer, Jack Kneppers, said they were currently exporting more than 220,000 roses - from zero exports in the last few months.
He said all his workers had resumed duty with daily production being exported to the Netherlands.
“The harsh times when we had to dump all our daily production is long gone and we are now back to business,” he said.
Kneppers said high air flight charges were still a problem but he was optimistic the situation would return to normal as more airlines resumed operations.
“Though the government is still lagging behind in VAT returns, we are happy we got part of the funds which has helped the business adversely affected by the pandemic,” he said.
CEO of the Kenya Flower Council Clement Tulezi said the sector was recovering with the EU market opening up, following the recent lockdown.
“We are projecting we shall fully recover by June 2021 and already farmers have recalled their entire workforce following the troubled period,” he said.
Concerning flights, Tulezi said farms were currently paying double compared to the pre-pandemic period.
The CEO said that the government was yet to release the Sh1.5 billion stimulus funds to cushion flower farms from the effects of the pandemic.
“We wanted the funds to be used to cushion farmers from the high cost of flight charges but the government is non-committal,” he said.
Tulezi added that the pandemic will force some firms to merge and others to close down.
“Covid-19 has exposed our vulnerability and we will have to address and reduce the cost of production to survive,” he said.
(Edited by V. Graham)