In September 2013, the Kenya Flower Council announced the launch of a “carbon reduction and opportunities toolkit” to help Kenyan cut-flower farmers to carbon footprint their cut-flower production. The toolkit was developed in response to growing consumer concerns over the environmental impact of particular patterns of consumption and trade. According to the CEO of the Kenya Flower Council (KFC), Jane Ngige, KFC expects “to demonstrate that while our mode of transport (air freight) is a major polluter, the overall environmental impact of operations undertaken by farmers [contributes] least to global warming compared to our competitors”. It was noted that “competitors in Eastern Europe grow their horticultural crops under artificial conditions”, with reportedly a higher environmental impact than Kenyan products.
The launch of the toolkit was described as “an important step for an industry which has to serve a distant market”. It is hoped that the toolkit “will give Kenya’s flowers an edge in the markets that have become sensitive to carbon impacts of production processes”.
Indicative of consumer sensitivity to the environmental impact of production and delivery processes is the inspection visit by officials of UK retailer Marks & Spencer “to review environmental sustainability of Kenya’s production”. Kenya is “the fourth largest sourcing location” for Marks & Spencer’s food division, with sales to the company of flowers, vegetables, tea and coffee worth more than KSh13.2 billion (€111.43 million) per annum. Kenya is increasingly selling mixed bouquets directly to companies like Marks & Spencer, moving away from the traditional flower auctions.
In the first 6 months of 2013, the value of Kenyan exports of cut flowers, fruit and vegetables reached KSh43.5 billion compared to KSh40.5 billion in 2012, with cut flowers accounting for two-thirds of this value (KSh30.34 billion to June 2013).
The development of direct sales relationships with retailers enables exporters to move up the value chain in the cut-flower market by preparing bouquets in line with the requirements of the final retailer. This increases the value of exports, but brings additional requirements in terms of meeting the procurement standards of the individual companies concerned.
The introduction of the Kenya Flower Council’s ‘carbon reduction and opportunities toolkit’ can be seen as an important means of responding to changing retailer requirements. In addition, data gathered through the use of the toolkit can be used to proactively engage in the debate on evolving retailer standards, allowing Kenya to differentiate itself from other suppliers.
The design, application and full utilisation of such tools as part of a marketing strategy requires a high level of producer organisation and the establishment of strict traceability systems. It can, however, help to keep Kenyan producers ahead of the curve with regard to evolving retailer standards, and can assist in consolidating the market position of Kenyan exporters in the face of increasing competition from third-country suppliers. Effective collective action in designing such tools can serve to reduce the unit cost of compliance verification.
However, there remains the issue of how accessible such tools are to smallholder producers. Special arrangements may be required to assist smallholder producers to cost-effectively undertake carbon footprint monitoring and thereby enable them to remain a part of export supply chains.