From: Jeremy Clarke and Antony Gitonga, Reuters
Published April 20, 2010 06:06 AM

Volcano disrupts African rose exports

Kenyan flower farmer Jack Kneppers was forced on Monday to throw 6.5 tons of his exquisite roses into a compost pit after flights headed for Europe were canceled because of the ash cloud.

Kenya's horticulture industry has already lost $12 million to the European airspace closure and it will take several weeks to recover even if flights resume now, its association of exporters said.

Kneppers' farm by picturesque Lake Naivasha in southwest Kenya produces 11 varieties of pristine roses worth tens of thousands of dollars every day.

"We have to throw them into big pits and turn them into compost," Kneppers said, standing in front of rows of boxes full of flowers that he fears will meet the same fate.

"Every day this happens it will cost us $35,000, more as we approach European mothers' day ... If you want to know what is being lost across the local industry, times that by sixty."

Horticultural exports are the leading hard currency earner in east Africa's largest economy, raking in 71.6 billion shillings ($924 million) last year. The sector provides thousands of jobs in a country with a high unemployment rate.

Flowers accounted for more than half of horticulture export earnings in 2009.

"It is bad. We have lost $3 million a night so that is a total of about $12 million as of last night," Stephen Mbithi, the head of the Fresh Producers Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK) told Reuters from his Nairobi office.

Mbithi said the country flies out 1,000 tons of fruit and vegetables every night at this time of the year and only about 100 tons departed on Monday morning, destined for Spain.

"We want to see if we can open a corridor into Spain then we can send everything from Spain straight to Germany, Netherlands Belgium and everywhere we sell," he said.

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