The continent of Africa, with its rich diversity of climates and terrains, has the potential to become a major global food basket in the years ahead. The advent of new agricultural systems, increasing investment and improving yields means that it can look forward to much fuller harvests in the future than was ever possible in years gone by.
Leading the charge in this endeavour is Kenya’s Flamingo Horticulture, a vertically integrated agribusiness, which provides its customers with the highest quality output and best practice in the food supply chain. In total, it produces and supplies the EU with 26 million kg of vegetables per annum from its operations in Kenya and South Africa – making it one of the trade bloc’s largest food suppliers.
In addition to food produce and herbs, the company is active in the growing, processing, marketing and distribution of sustainably produced roses and other cut flowers. These flowers are supplied to most of the UK’s leading retailers as well as international customers across the globe, continuing to expand to meet its customers’ demand.
What emerges then is the perfect case study for how a small regional player in Kenya in East Africa can become a world leader with no compromises made on sustainability.
Extensive Operations and third party network
Having been founded in Kenya in 1982, Flamingo Horticulture can still claim to be a relatively young company. However, the scale of its own operations and third party network across the globe would be the admiration of many firms which have been much older, providing testament to the quality of output of the firm since its foundation.
For Flamingo Horticulture, becoming a world leader in its field was a combination of organic growth and acquisitions. Its supply chain is balanced between its own large-scale professional farms in Kenya and South Africa and long-term sourcing partnerships with a global network of vertically integrated third party suppliers and out growers.
This scale allows it to offer year-round high-quality produce. For example, it is the world’s largest added-value producer and exporter of flowers, delivering over 780m stems per annum. Over a third of these are grown on the company’s own farms in Africa before being distributed to the UK and continental Europe.
Those farms are located in Kenya (near Mt. Kenya and Lake Naivasha) and South Africa (close to Johannesburg). Combined, they provide close to 2,000 hectares of growing space. Around 90% of this land is located in Kenya, whose high-altitude location near the equator offers ideal growing conditions for flowers and vegetables with consistent temperatures and regular rainfall.
At a time when obesity is reaching alarming levels in the west, Flamingo Produce is one of the largest global suppliers of fresh premium and freshly prepared seasonal vegetables. It sources and processes around 26 million kg for the UK retail market alone, around a quarter of which are grown on Flamingo-owned farms in Africa.
Sustainable, from the field to the dinner table
As the company itself notes, when it began operations almost 40 years ago, it made a commitment to sustainability and as the firm expanded, and ultimately became global, its sustainable practices also expanded. Its customers aren’t just looking for high-quality produce anymore – now it has to be sustainably produced, sourced and distributed. 538
As a large agricultural business – and an integral part of a wider network of businesses – Flamingo Horticulture understands that it is intimately linked to the natural environment and has a keen grasp of the volatility, uncertainty, complex and ambiguous factors (VUCA) that affect its operations and those of its partners.
It top line sustainability commitments are guided by its business pillars of freedom, integrity, responsibility, mutuality, innovation and quality. These values reflect on its initiatives in areas into several different categories to which it pays special attention: water management, energy conservation, environmental projects, worker welfare, community projects and CSR.
The range of sustainable measures taken by Flamingo Horticulture is beyond the scope of this article such is its breadth. However, highlights include the sustainable capture, cleaning, storage and recycling of its water – owning the largest water storage capacity in Kenya – as well as pioneering the use of wetland schemes in Kenya which has benefitted local farmers.
Its environmental projects include reforestation in Kenya; in worker welfare, it is a leader in gender equality, training and development schemes for staff and health awareness training (in areas such as HIV and malaria, for example); finally, in the community, it contributes to projects involving hospitals, clinics, schools and those which promote fair trade.
A global network of partners
Flamingo Horticulture’s most prominent suppliers reflect the importance of Kenya to its overall operations. Nearly all of its principal suppliers are local Kenyan firms which Flamingo can depend on 365 days a year to fulfill the standards it strives for – both in terms of operations and sustainability.
These include Greenlife Kenya, which works with Flamingo on crop protection; Blackwood Hodge (Kenya), which provides the generators for much of the Flamingo operations; Elgon Kenya, which provides the technology required to scale up; and the East African Packing Industry and Packing Industries Limited, which have the considerable logistical task of ensuring all the produce at its source in Kenya, before being sent all over the globe.
In addition, Flamingo complements its own supply from Kenya and South Africa with produce from its partners around the world, guaranteeing a year-round supply of the highest quality to its customers. All of its partners operate under the firm’s Preferred Partner Programme and continue to play an important part in the Flamingo Horticulture success story.
A country-by-country basis shows Flamingo’s reach. Its partnerships with other growers and distributors give it access to the UK, Poland, Tanzania, Peru, Japan, Australia and other countries. Among these partners are global leaders of the horticulture industry, including AAA Growers, Beta Complejo Agroindustrial, Cobrey, and Love My Chillies.
Catering to an urbanized world
As the world becomes ever more urbanized, and people become further removed from rural areas, the more we depend on companies to guarantee that the food we consume is both high quality and sustainable. Thanks to companies like Flamingo Horticulture, we can rest assured that these concerns are catered for.
The firm has made a number of investments over the last couple of years which will be integrated and will allow it to continue its story. These include a recent investment of $2.4m into Dudutech, a biological pesticide manufacturer in Kenya and the acquisition of the Butters Group in the UK late last year, giving it a bigger footprint in that country’s flower market.
With companies like Flamingo Horticulture on its doorstep, Africa can look forward to a future of sustainable food production. A new generation of farmers is emerging which is trained in the ways of one of the world’s leaders in sustainable agriculture, and that can only be a good thing as Africa looks to build on its huge progress over the past two decades.