Cut Flower Exports of Africa    
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The cut flower trade

The cut flower trade is a multibillion dollar world industry. Flowers are grown in many countries and, due to their perishability, must be rapidly transported by air often to far-flung destinations. The Netherlands largely dominates this industry; more than 60% of the international trade in cut flowers is conducted from there, much of it at the flower auctions. Although the Netherlands is itself a major producer of cut flowers, some of the flowers it exports are imported to it from other countries and pass through the auctions before heading to their export destinations. In 2003 Kenya was by far the biggest supplier to the Netherlands auctions (Table 1).

Country Turnover (in euros) 2003
Kenya 160,553,000   
Israel 119,503,000   
Zimbabwe 50,380,000   
Ecuador 26,379,000   
Uganda 13,797,000   
Other countries 89,498,000   
Total 460,110,000   
Table 1
Turnover realized in imported cut flowers
Source: VBN (Dutch Flower Auctions Association)

Kenya and Zimbabwe are the leading flower exporters in Africa. South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia are also major producers, while some other African countries export a much smaller volume.

Two options are open to African growers: to directly market their flowers to consumer countries, or export them through the Netherlands auctions. The more-developed cut flower operations (such as Kenya's) have the means to directly market some of their product, most of which is exported to Europe and the U.S. In less-developed African countries, however, such as Tanzania, where most of the growers are small-scale, the Netherlands auctions take 90% of the flower production.

Just a few flower types dominate African flower exports. Roses make up 70% to 95% of the exports in some African countries, particularly the less-developed ones. Other top flowers exported are Dendranthema (chrysanthemums), Dianthus (carnations), and Limonium (statice). A broad range of other flowers (not just those native to Africa) are grown in smaller quantities.

United States imports

The U.S., along with Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Japan are the major world consumer markets for cut flowers. Asia, particularly China, is expected to become the largest consumer market in the world within the next few decades. In the U.S. alone, more than $13 billion retail worth of flowers are sold annually. Although the U.S. itself produces flowers, over half of the flowers sold are imported (Table 2).

Country Percent of total imports
Mexico 24
Netherlands 10
Thailand 8
Colombia 6
Ecuador 5
Costa Rica 4
Australia 2
Israel 2
Total of top 8 61
Table 2
Top eight countries exporting to the U.S. in 2004

Cut flower imports directly from Africa account for about 0.5% of the total. Another way that African flowers come to the U.S., however, is through the Netherlands auctions. Other countries, such as Mexico, also import and reexport flowers to the U.S.

Miami International airport handles over 85% of the country's cut flower imports. Most of these shipments come from South America, and consist primarily of roses and relatively few other major flower types. A larger variety of flowers, including flowers from Africa, arrive at New York's JFK airport, Chicago O'Hare and other airports. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agricultural specialists inspect all shipments of imported cut flowers for pests and diseases at U.S. air and border ports. Pests and diseases carried by cut flowers are a concern because if they were to become established here in the U.S., they could seriously harm American agriculture and the environment, particularly the domestic floriculture and nursery industries.