Oserian’s 5,000-acre flower farm is driving forward an industry very much in fashion
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
As one of the world’s largest exporters of fresh cut flowers, Kenya’s ‘champions of nature’ have long been an industry standard, but now that flowers really are in fashion, Oserian expects its industry leading model to blossom even further.
A flower farm for 25 years, but with roots that delve back even further, today’s Company can boast 5,000 acres of land near Lake Naivasha from which to hone its unique approach to flower growing.
Run by professionals who are also on the Board of Directors, Oserian’s rose, carnation and green filler products enhance the variety of bouquet offerings that are created to suit ever-changing market requirements.
“Oserian has a unique ‘champions by nature’ approach to flower growing, using integrated pest management (IPM) systems over conventional pesticides, hydroponics to reduce the consumption of water and fertiliser, and the world’s largest geothermal greenhouse heating project for climate control and to provide plant-nourishing carbon dioxide,” explains the Company’s Director of Administration, Kirimi Mpungu. “Oserian then exports to all major fresh cut flower wholesale and retail markets globally.
“Demand and appetite for growth is key in developing new markets, but we also consider route to market. This is a factor in getting the product to market quickly therefore retaining freshness and quality. It is also a key cost ingredient. Overall, costs to market have to be sensible for sustainability.”
Across cost, production, and the farming process, Oserian adopts a ‘less is more’ ethos where technology also ranks highly in order to make every centimetre of the 5,000 acre growing footprint count, and to ultimately improve yields.
Increased utilisation of geothermal resources for heating and production of carbon dioxide has gone a long way in aiding this philosophy while also improving the overall quality of products as well.
“This gives us a competitive advantage as it is not readily available across the industry,” Mpungu details. “We’re also looking to enhance our Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programme. For us, it’s about making the most of the unique natural resource we have, whether it’s using insects and fungi, or natural geothermal resources from underground or solar power.
“We also continue to sharpen our logistics capabilities and are currently testing, together with the developing partner, a light but sturdy box solution which increases carrying capacity, reduces the weight of the box itself and exhibits superior integrity when stacked on an aircraft pallet.”
High quality products
Oserian challenges its management team to be better each and every day, to see what can be developed, improved, made more efficient, or performed more effectively.
And this has been the case ever since inception in 1982, when a previously run vegetable farm was converted into a flower farm.
“Using the aforementioned technology, we are now able to grow high quality products unique to our growing model which is not easily replicated across the industry; hence providing us a competitive advantage,” Mpungu notes as to the modern day astuteness of the business. “We have also enhanced our marketing platform by revamping our marketing team in Europe to enable regular interaction, ensure customer retention and develop a niche market for our unique products.”
The Company has also consolidated its widely spread farm into a much smaller area within the geothermal production jurisdiction.
Additionally, new offices have been built, enhanced warehousing, storage and packing facilities have been introduced, and the Company’s distribution channels have also been refined.
Mpungu continues: “We have acquired seven electric vehicles from the Netherlands to transport flowers from the greenhouses across a much shorter distance to our new packhouse for grading and packing. The capacity of our cold storage has been increased by 25 percent to enhance cooling and strictly observe the sub-five degrees optimum temperature for quality assurance.”
Inevitably, with such equipment, space, facilities and industry knowledge in-house, Oserian can stick to a truly vertically integrated business model; complementing its internal capabilities with external specialists across areas of logistics, cool chain management, and supply chain management in order to improve the experience levels contributing to the business, as well as the overall economy of scale enjoyed by the Company.
Tell the sustainable story
And all of this is driven by a staff complement which is 99 percent localised, and an overall commitment to Kenyan enrichment that Mpungu believes defines Oserian.
“As part of our ongoing drive to better communicate our sustainable practices, Oserian has developed a new branding campaign called Flori 4 Life,” he affirms. “This is a concept to tell our ethical story in the marketplace. We have created four lines: Flowers 4 Water, Flowers 4 Farming, Flowers 4 Education, and Flowers 4 Nature. These allow us to put a tag on our products telling our various stories.
“So the tag might talk about putting water into the community, for example, or building schools. This allows us to keep our clients regularly updated on what we’re doing over here. We believe that flowers are an emotional gift, and if we can tell the sustainable story behind our flowers, the value of that gift is heightened.”
By investing in the improvement of Kenyan agriculture, the Company is directly contributing to the sustainability of local communities in the country; addressing a growing demand for food, quality control in the farming sector, heightened understanding of Kenya’s land composition; and general business principles that will help take the wider industry to the next level of yields.
Flowers are fashion
And in turn, the business keeps up its own end of the bargain by setting the example.
“Flowers are fashion and it is incumbent upon our technical designers and growers to maintain daily contact with our buyers and together craft products that appeal to the market,” Mpungu says. “Besides appeal, we consider disposable income in both our traditional and new markets as well. Cost of production is also a factor.
“As a result of Brexit, for example, we face the impact of less revenue and increased costs. The Kenyan flower industry has also matured, so the returns per square metre are a lot less today than they were in yesteryears. So Brexit has emboldened us as a business to fast-track our plans and to increase our efficiencies.”
It takes a concerted amount of innovation to achieve flexibility in an industry that has been established for so many centuries. The challenge is to set the industry pace, rather than react to it, making any expectations on Oserian self-imposed, and any competitor progression dependent on Oserian’s own successes.
“Kenya is currently capturing attention as large economies begin to look for opportunities to develop new markets. We as a business see an opportunity to develop a number of opportunities outside the floricultural sector,” Mpungu concludes. “We have created a new entity called Oserian Two Lakes, which is an organisation charged with realising the opportunities ahead. This will be in the form of the various parts of our natural resource and land-use taking the wide range of alternatives available to us into account.
“Our primary focus is improving the efficiency of our flower operations, but as the industry develops, we will diversify our business to embrace emerging opportunities and spread our risk.”