Africa’s flower trade needs to up logistics game

Africa’s flower trade needs to up logistics game

While on one hand Africa’s floral industry is blooming and eyeing major markets, a freighter shortage could cast a shadow on its growing ambitions. What is really happening with the flower industry?

Africa has enjoyed global attention from peers over its blooming flower industry throughout the past decade. However, only volumes won’t ensure a bright future, but an efficient and sufficient supply chain would decide its fate. It is high time for Africa to take some decisive decisions on expanding global footprints, technologies as well as experimenting with newer trade routes to ensure a sustainable business, Shreya Bhattacharya reports in an article written for Logistics Update Africa.

Florists in Africa are the busiest during the months of February to May, the months leading up to occasions like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Visibly, cut flowers are the commodity that exchange maximum hands during these occasions, in an expression of love. While they did the same this time, at the backend remains a story untold.

Florists in Kenya were hoping to do brisk business during this Valentine’s Day when they were caught in tangle as a logistics logjam seemed lurking around the corner due to an inbound freight crunch, causing a dearth of outbound cargo flights from Kenya. Amid the accelerating global economic recovery, cargo aircraft had diverted to more-profitable routes in Europe, the US and Asia, and away from less profitable ones in Africa. A Wall Street Journal report says that with air carriers insisting on flexibility and waiting till the last minute to commit to cargo flights, Kenya’s freight crunch around Valentine’s Day was hard to circumvent given the short life of cut flowers.

Confirming the crisis situation, Conrad Archer, country manager, Panalpina Kenya reveals that this has caused increased costs of extra freighters for Valentine’s and International Women’s Day and has indeed affected the flower business in Kenya. “The costs were unprecedented this year. Many of the supply chains are locked and were not prepared for any additional logistics costs, especially at the levels charged. The volumes were still moved, but it was not without difficulties. Since Chinese New Year was on 16 February this year, Kenya was not able to take advantage of the Chinese downturn during that time. Flights operated on days that were not convenient for shippers. On top of that, the problems arising from the local plant health authority system, again affected the documentation process.”

Growing awareness among shippers

It is worth mentioning here that the cut flower industry in Africa, particularly in Kenya and Ethiopia, has flourished rapidly in the past few years, as Netherlands – traditionally the centre of production for the European floral market, shifted its attention towards flower trading instead of production. This has brought focus on Africa, the next nearest region to European countries that produces flowers in huge quantity for trade, favoured by its climatic conditions. Apart from government initiatives to improve the poor state of infrastructure for a smoother trade route, growers as well as logistic players are also increasingly getting aware about measures that can boost production and bring more returns.

During the recently held second edition of Flower Logistics Africa, organised by Logistics Update Africa, florists, as well as the entire cross section of the supply chain, unanimously called for standardisation across the value chain to make it lean. In other words, emphasis was laid on a uniform code for all stakeholders including the shippers, supply chain industry, airlines and airports that could be linked to IATA standards.

“Increasingly it is becoming very clear that no one association can cover all the areas of concern. No one association has the competence to deal with all the issues across the value chain. And therefore, they need to realise or appreciate the strengths of each association and see how we can tap into that strength and come up with a product that is of value to the common membership we have of the business folk in the industry,” said Jane Ngige, chief executive officer of Kenya Horticulture Council on the sidelines of the event.

Technological upgradation is another important part which is also being taken care of, to facilitate the delicate process. The less often flowers are physically handled during their transportation the longer they are likely to maintain their beauty. The ideal situation is a stable logistics ‘cold chain’ that ensures quick and efficient transportation to keep the flowers as fresh as possible.

“The advent of vacuum cooling has had a major impact on the cold chain management. Panalpina is in the process of fitting its third double-maindeck unit as part of the USD3.5-million expansion in Nairobi. We now also deliver our built-up pallets in reefer trucks to the ground-handling agent to ensure the cold chain is maintained. The fact that some producers have changed to a composite box, all pre-skidded prior to delivery, is an improvement. However, it requires us to invest in new facilities designed for unloading and pallet building with forklifts. Our new facility will also have several chambers, allowing us to handle different products with different temperature regimes, such as berries, flowers and plant cuttings,” informs Archer.

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