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07 november 2016

'True growth lies in Kenya'

KENYA – The origin of OZ Import actually lies on the continent of Africa. It has been centuries since Klaas van Zijverden made his first journey to Africa, looking for special and unique flowers. One of his first finds was the Protea Cynaroides, which he proudly brought back to the Netherlands. The enthusiasm about the Protea Cynaroides was so enormous in the flower industry, that he stimulated local African growers to set up production for commercial usage. OZ Import was born. This Protea now has almost 200 new breeds. These breeds were realised after a selection and gentrification company was set up in South Africa. Next to OZ Import, also Rose Connect en Green Connect were added in the past ten years. Therefore the import organisation has three specialisms.

Joep Derksen

OZ Import is a flower importer and trade platform. The company aims at marketing quality flowers. About 98% of the exotic and seasonal flowers are exported from Africa and South America, whilst sustainability is also paid attention to. Erik van Duijn is Commercial Director with OZ Import. 'We import roses, summer flowers, exotic species and ornamental foliage. From Kenya we do not only import roses, but also summer flowers such as Gypsophila, Solidago and Liatris.' Annually OZ Import and Rose Connect bring over 100 million stem roses and about 20 million stem summer flowers over from Kenya.

It was in Zimbabwe that OZ Import set up its first activities on the African continent. But due to the political unrest, which happens years ago, it became more and more difficult for growers to invest in this country. The choice was made to further expand to Kenya and the company doesn't have a single regret. Van Duijn: 'When you look at the climate for growing flowers, Kenya is ideal and even better than Zimbabwe. The whole year around temperatures are fairly stable. Our sister companies and import companies use our office in Nairobi and all flower arrive from all over Kenya at the conditioned location near the airport JKIA.'

OZ Import purchases its products mostly from growers in the regions Naivasha and Nakuru. With each delivery by the local growers, a quality inspection team is waiting at the airport and checking the products upon arrival. The grower receives immediate feedback regarding the continued improving of the supply of his products. But if the roses and summer flowers are of inferior quality, the quality inspection team is relentless: the products are then being sent back to the farm. Van Duijn: 'We do not bring bad products on the market.' However, OZ Import does make sure that these growers receive immediate follow-up. The quality inspection team visits the farms to provide on the spot advise and resolve as many challenges as possible, together with the growers. It is an example of corporate social responsibility, because in this way the local growers and their staff are supported to develop a higher quality standard.

What pitfalls did Van Duijn experience in Kenya? He laughs: 'The opportunism of the growers, who always estimate that they will grow more flowers, than will actually be the case. You could call them false promises, but I'd rather see it as healthy enthusiasm Reality shows, that the total output will be different, due to for instance weather conditions. When growers promise me 100, reality is that they will achieve 70 or 80 and sometimes even only 50 or 60. I have learned from experience. Therefore I cautiously estimate the expected production, which is predicted to me during the meetings I have with the local growers.'

Van Duijn is an expert by experience; he lived in Kenya for three years and nowadays travels to the country about four times per year. Amongst others for visiting the trade exhibition IFTEX in Nairobi in June. 'During these trips we visit growers to make new price arrangements and talk about the numbers to be produced in the coming year. But we also evaluate how things are going at that moment. In Kenya it is important to be in regular contact with each other. Therefore I am not the only one who travels to Kenya. Besides, we also have a local office, DFG Africa, in Kenya. It is indeed important to be in touch about the market developments on a weekly and even daily basis.'

The future looks bright for the activities of OZ Import and Rose Connect in Kenya. 'We have a lot of confidence in Kenya and would like to expand. We envision a lot of possibilities for this objective. Production does not increase a lot in countries like Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Instead; it remains stable. True growth can be found in Kenya and Ethiopia.'