Over the last ten years, the cut flower industry has been thriving in the African continent. The USA and the European Union are presently the largest buyers of cut flowers. While Kenya and South Africa are the two nations leading in flower export. International flower exports have greatly increased in value in the last ten years. For this reason, the independent freight forwarders in Africa are increasingly focusing on perishable logistics. In today’s blog, we will be discussing the blooming flower logistics in Africa, how it is coping with the pandemic and what independent freight forwarders should do to expand their international footprints.
The cut flower logistics in Africa
Logistics companies in Ethiopia and Kenya in particular are the biggest beneficiaries of the increasing demand in cut flowers. In the last few years, the Netherlands (the hub of the flower market in Europe) has moved its focus from flower production to flower trading. As a result, Africa has emerged as one of the largest flower exporters. Additionally, its proximity to Europe makes it the ideal centre for cut flower logistics. Apart from the USA and the countries in the EU, Japan and China are also major importers of roses from Ethiopia and Kenya. Nevertheless, only the volume of trade is not enough to ensure a great future for the African supply chain industry. Flower producers as well as the freight forwarding industry are taking advantage of this scenario and boosting production and investing in cold chain logistics.
While the largest purchaser of flowers are the USA and the countries in Europe, the largest exporters and producers are Kenya, Ethiopia, Netherlands, Colombia, and Ecuador. The most popular products are chrysanthemums, and roses. As per the British Florist Association, although around 80% of the imported flowers in the UK come via the Netherlands, a vast percentage of those flowers are grown in Kenya. Moreover, the UK also receives several air freight shipments of flowers that come directly from Nairobi. In the Kenyan capital entire terminals are dedicated to cater to planes carrying cut flowers.
Kenya is presently one of the primary exporters of roses. According to Union Fleurs, Kenya is the supplier of around a third of all roses sold in Europe. In fact, cut flowers contribute to approximately 1% of Kenya’s GDP. Moreover, the flower sector in Kenya provides employment to a large number of citizens.
The importance of cold chain logistics and investments in technology
Cut flowers need to be moved within the shortest possible time span by making use of an efficient cold chain. This involves refrigerated facilities across every section of the supply chain including farms, trucks, flights, ships, and warehouses. Without the availability of fully functional cold chain facilities, the flowers will not remain fresh. For this reason, the independent freight forwarders in the African countries are increasingly investing on cold chain facilities. Therefore, we can see considerable investments in boosting the use of technology to expedite this delicate process. Logistics companies are now focusing on temperature recording en route and traceability of shipments. Furthermore, when it comes to cut flower shipments, the manual handling of cargo should be kept to a minimum. This helps to keep the flowers fresh and extend their longevity.
For example, while moving roses from a farm in Kenya, the cold chain commences right after the plucking of flowers. Ideally, the flowers should be taken to the airport within 48 hours from plucking. To keep the flowers fresh the flowers need to be kept in temperature-controlled storage during these 48 hours. This is why the farms need to have storage facilities with a temperature between 2-6 degrees Celsius. A well-organized cold chain logistics is the only way to ensure fast and effective movement of cut flowers. Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa are the three African nations that have successfully developed well-coordinated cold chain logistics. However, the transportation and logistics companies in the rest of the African countries are lagging behind. This is because of the infrastructural weaknesses.
The pressing challenges in this sector
One of the most pressing challenges faced by logistics companies in Africa is the lack of proper roads. Moreover, they still don’t have enough transport capacity to meet the rising demands. Besides, these challenges become more pronounced during the months of February to May when demand is at its peak. However, steps are being taken both at a national and international level to enhance the transport network in the continent. For instance, several Chinese companies have invested to augment the rail and road connectivity in Ethiopia and Kenya. This obviously had a positive impact on the export of flowers from these countries. Additionally, the creation of special economic zones in Ghana, Nigeria, and Ethiopia have allowed these countries to start local production.
The challenges posed by the pandemic
The Coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown in so many countries severely disrupted the flower supply chain. The cut flower sector in Southern and Eastern African nations was deeply affected by the lockdown. The Multiflora Auction House in South Africa that deals exclusively in cut flowers suffered a 40% decrease in their profits. Increased freight expense, unavailability of labour, delayed and cancelled flights are some of the factors that greatly impacted the prosperity of the cut flower industry. In fact, several flower companies in Kenya have even gone out of business during the lockdown. Moreover, the lockdown imposed curbs on socializing that in turn decreased the demand for flowers. On an average, the African cut flower sector had to discard 241,000 stems because of the Covid-19.
Wrapping it up
Before concluding it needs to be mentioned that the independent freight forwarders in Africa are taking many measures to cope with the effects of the lockdown. For instance, they are now focusing on creating new supply chain solutions. Ethiopian Airlines and Kenyan Airlines are improving their air freight services. This will not only promote the easy export of cut flowers but also of various other commodities. Lastly, the African logistics companies are investing a lot of money and effort for the creation of an efficient cold chain. Once the pandemic starts to subside we can expect to see a higher international demand for cut flowers. The independent freight forwarders in Africa should prepare themselves to ensure the smooth delivery of blooms to the customer’s doorsteps.