Cold chain in focus as floriculture heats up: logistics bottlenecks could limit East Africa's flower exports as the world market recovers.

Author:Rivers, Martin

On an average day at the Aalsmeer flower auction in the Netherlands--long considered the flower capital of the world--some 20m stems will change hands. During peak holiday period the trading in the country, which handles around 52% of global volume, is even more frantic.

In the week running up to Valentine's Day 2015, an estimated 200m red roses and tulips, room assorted other varieties and 20m pot plants were exported by truck and air from Amsterdam. Many of those flowers had just arrived from Nairobi, which despatched 45 aircraft freighters to the Dutch capital that week alone.

While few exporters emerged from the global economic downturn unscathed, shippers of price-elastic, discretionary goods bound for Europe were particularly hard hit. Among those on the front lines were Africa's floriculture traders, who had to contend with weak demand abroad even as production costs at home increased.

A Eurozone debt crisis characterised by rising unemployment and falling living standards meant that most flower buyers were more concerned with making ends meet than splashing out on bouquets.

But, although the global economy has far from fully recovered, both consumer demand and business sentiment are now picking up. That is good news for the many cogs in the machinery of the floriculture industry, which brings together growers, freight forwarders, ground handling agents, cargo operators and retailers into one inter-dependent supply chain.

Global floriculture exports have nearly doubled in value over the past decade to reach $20.6bn per year, and Africa is enjoying a bigger piece of the pie than ever. Kenyan growers have particularly good cause for optimism this year. Having more than doubled their share of global exports to 7% over the past decade amounting to 120,000 tonnes of flowers annually--the sector received a boost in December, when its duty-free and quota-free access to the European Union was restored under an Economic Partnership Agreement with the East African Community. That will keep costs down for exporters, contributing to projected earnings of 50bn shillings ($546m) in 2015.

North of the border, Ethiopia is also targeting higher returns from floriculture. The country sent 1.27bn roses to the EU in 2012, more than doubling revenues to 6131m ($13801) over just four years. Addis Ababa now accounts for 2% of global flower exports, and is aiming to lift horticultural revenues by 51% this year.

While the figures are encouraging, growth in...

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