Blooming As a Collective in the Fresh Cut Flower Sector, Africa
A personal note from Team Azalea: The ongoing pandemic has disrupted our sense of ‘normal’ in multiple facets of life all over the world. From world trade, education, socialization and mental health - it has been important for us to ground into our resilience and materialize new and dynamic solutions to this scale of disruption. We wanted to kick-start our blog by talking about a topic close to our heart - solidarity and the sense of community for the cut flower industry in Africa.
The global fresh cut flower industry is largely dominated in production & exports by the Netherlands for the last 20 years. Columbia, Ecuador and Kenya approximately contributing 31% to the US $8.94 billion global fresh cut flower industry. While several African countries export fresh cut flowers, the market is dominated by Kenya (62%) and Ethiopia (24%). The impact caused by COVID-19 on global and local supply chains coupled with the loss of demand from consumers due to the various lockdown measures across the world has led to multiple challenges across a complex supply chain. In a few cases with eased restrictions, African producers and consolidators have been scaling production to meet global consumer demand.
Another set of interesting factors to note are the destinations of export for these producers and wholesalers to fulfill global demand and the sources of import to satisfy local needs. Leaders like Kenya and Ethiopia export majority of their cut flowers to the Netherlands and other European countries, the Middle East, Australia and a very small portion to neighbouring African countries. Additionally, one can observe that most African countries import majorly from the Netherlands and to a very small extent from their neighbouring African countries. There is sufficient reasoning for this market trend over the last decade since the global flower auctions held at Holland provide a significant amount of benefits for smaller international players to enter global marketplaces at stabilized prices, product consistency and increased accessibility for producers, consolidators and buyers. This presents us with a whitespace that can and should be addressed by our community of growers and consolidators within the continent. How can we serve growing demand from African countries without compromising on the bottom line? A key question to ask ourselves is what do we define as ‘community’ and how do we ensure the growth and development of the cut flower community, not just in each individual country but for a continent as a whole? Is it worth deriving a logistical plan to supply cut flowers to local companies and florists?
“The current status quo really boils down to a much-needed change in perception and a strong evaluation of one’s own ethics. Historically, we have ensured consistent supply to the West due to higher demands and purchasing power, even at the expense of not supplying locally. This is starting to change. We are beginning to love and empower our own in the ways that are possible to us.” says Saskia Singh, Managing Director at Azalea Blooms.
An interesting factor to note here is the quality of flowers scheduled for exports. Export-grade flowers are only of the most premium quality and a large quantity of flowers often get rejected and sent back to the farms. Unfortunately due to the grey (and black) areas in our industry, these rejected flowers often find their way into local markets at exorbitant prices. Local florists often have very little choice and are forced to undertake smaller quantities at high prices in order to stay competitive and in some cases, even afloat.
We’d like to illustrate this dewdrop idea with a recent order request we faced - 100 Kgs of fresh cut roses for a well established florist in Harare. Maria, Founder at Ria’s Florists, faced similar challenges with a shortage in stock and reached out to us (amongst other consolidators and farms) directly. As consolidators, our primary focus is aimed at large scale wholesalers who then continue the supply chain to reach florists and local markets. We also usually supply a minimum stipulated order quantity starting at 500 Kgs keeping in mind space and freight optimization. On any other occasion, we probably would have apologized and excused ourselves from going through but it was a singular moment of reflection to understand how we and many others like us were allowing profitability to supersede our inherent human nature to support one another and embody the true meaning of ‘community’. In that singular moment, we also reflected back on our founder - Sharon’s journey and the challenges that accompany being a woman in a male dominated industry.
The Azalea Blooms family has always believed in the power of one act of kindness and the resulting ripple effect. An act of kindness and consideration extended to Sharon probably 30 years ago extended to a florist in Zimbabwe and will continue to live on within the community. In the current chaotic climate, we must take it upon ourselves to better understand our roles in the community and be responsible for the growth of our fellow growers, workers, consolidators and sellers. Sustainable and fair practices are not limited to processes, wages and working conditions; they extend to our collective and individual mindsets and openness for real change and growth.