Kenya is courting airlines to meet Europe’s Valentine’s Day flower demand

Kenya authorized Ethiopian Airlines Group and Qatar Airways to operate additional cargo flights to meet additional demand for Valentine’s Day flowers.

Ethiopia’s national airline was granted 24 flights and Qatari airline five “ad hoc additional flights” between late January and mid-February to ease freight restrictions on Kenyan flower producers, according to Gilbert Kibe, director-general of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority. The additional flights complement existing capacity at licensed airlines, including Kenya Airways, he said.

The February 14 holiday accounts for about 50% of Kenya’s annual cut flower shipments, and passenger flights, which normally account for around half of shipments, don’t have enough belly space, according to Clement Tulezi, chief executive officer of lobby group Kenya Flower Council.

Kenya’s flower industry is the largest exporter of flowers to Europe. It sells around 70% of its flowers to the region via Amsterdam.

Weekly cargo demand is about 5,200 tons during the Valentine’s Day season, but capacity — even with the additional freighters — will be 3,000 tons, leaving flower growers with a deficit of more than 2,000 tons, Tulezi said.

Cargo space restrictions and the doubling of air freight rates to an average of $5.70 per kilogram threaten to dampen grower sentiment amid strong demand and higher rose prices. Freight costs averaged $2.40 per kilogram last year, Tulezi said.

According to Richard Fernandes, chief executive officer at Marginpar, a flower grower in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, high costs for inputs such as fertilizers and chemicals are hurting the industry despite “strong orders and demand for roses”.

According to spokesman Michel van Schie, cut flower prices at Royal FloraHolland, which runs three export auctions in the Netherlands, are 10% higher than a year ago.

Nairobi-based cargo company Astral Aviation Ltd. has doubled weekly cargo flights to Europe to ten and added four to Dubai and Riyadh to meet Valentine’s Day demand, according to Chief Executive Officer Sanjeev Gadhia.

Flower export earnings rose 3% last year to 110 billion shillings ($968 million) from a year earlier in East Africa’s largest economy, according to data from the Kenya Flower Council.

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