Sustainability. Recycling. This according to Finlays Kingfisher Farm general manager Craig Oulton is the mantra that drives the giant flower producer’s operations worldwide. “We must give back to the environment what we take out for sustainability of the business”, the Lake Naivasha environment champion says.
Finlays is a vertically integrated horticulture firm producing and exporting flowers and vegetables grown in Kericho, Naivasha and Nanyuki.
Kenya, he says, is way ahead of its peers in the flower production business and is positioned to show the world its best practices.
Finlays Kingfisher farm grows 92 hectares of roses, spray carnations, solidago and sunflower through a mix of tunnels and outdoor farming.
Its products are marketed direct to the UK and Germany where it has two retail arms. The balance finds it’s way to the US, Holland, Japan, South Africa and Australia.
The 30-year Kingfisher farm stands where one of the pioneers of Kenya’s flower industry, Sulmac used to be until 2000 when it was sold by CDC to another flower giant, Homegrown, that was in turn acquired by James Finlay in 2007.
“Finlays is a unique farming business”, says Craig pointing at a row of aquatic plants and bottles of water arranged on a table displaying a stage-by-stage account of the process of natural water recycling at the constructed wetland.
Here, used water from the canteen, washrooms and pack house is collected and directed to a wetland where a mix of plants and other purification methods soak dirt finally producing clean water that is ready to be released back to the environment.
In the greenhouses, the farm employs hydroponics technology, reputed as the most economical water and nutrients plant feeding method yet.
Plants are grown in a medium fitted with drip lines from a central place where fertigation is done. Crops take only what is required and the rest goes back to the tank for purification and replenishing. “With hydroponics there is no wastage of water or nutrients”, he emphasized.
Recycling at Finlays has been extended to old greenhouses that are recycled into posts, beehives and nails. Mature rose stocks and papyrus are converted into charcoal, a much used fuel that gives a lease of life to trees.
“The reason we take all these steps,” Craig reiterates, “is to create a happy working environment. This far, we have a happy workforce, we are surrounded by a community we support and we have curved a niche market that is happy with our products. We provide a bus to take workers to and from work, they get meals at the staff canteen, they work for stipulated hours; are provided with protective gear and trained as necessary.”
The firm’s hospital in Naivasha serves not only its staff but also the surrounding community and neighbouring farm’s workers. It is free for staff and family, and subsidized for the rest of the users even for specialized services like X-rays.
Finlay has a battery of certification labels – Fairtrade, Kenya Flower Council Gold, MPS and many more. Through Fairtrade premiums, the farm provides wood to schools, has one of the few working fire engines in the town and conducts training on management of Lake Naivasha. It also funds the staff children education bursary.
To live up to all work and no play makes a dull Jack, the farm has created sports teams, with layers doing a great job of serving as its ambassadors.
Flower picker Keziah Chege says Finlays is her second home after working here for 10 years. “We get transport to work and back home, I am able to take care of my family and educate my children,” she says.
Most of the workers at Finlays are permanent and undergo regular training in their respective work stations and core principals of sustainable production.
The farm has been on a pesticides reduction regime with its sister company Dudutech developing biological products and methods of pests and diseases management. “We never use pesticides unless we must”, said Craig.
“The rationale behind the things we do here – staff and management – is pride in our work and sustainability. We are not here for the short-term,” Craig says.
The future of businesses adds Craig, is a clear social and environmental sustainability structure, which has been created at Finlays, the key reason why the farm is an accredited grower, and among the four KFC Gold certified farms.
Water and energy, the world’s most talked about resources that are diminishing fast threatening livelihoods and spiraling production costs are under daily watch through a Key Performance Indicator system (KPI) that monitors usage, identifies areas of high application and means sort to reduce the digits. “We micromanage usage of water by metering all critical points like watering crops, pack houses, and washrooms; we graph usage with the objective to reduce year- on – year basis, at least by 10-20 per cent,” says Craig. Recently the farm started using donkeys to move flowers from the greenhouses to the pack house to reduce fuel and impact on environment, and to make offer a useful home to the animals most of which have been rescued.
The farm is evaluating the production of biogas. We are also introducing day-neutral varieties to replace short day flowers. It is our intent to reduce the need to extend lighting at night in the greenhouse in addition to the energy saving bulbs that are being used. “These steps are meant to reduce the cost of electricity, the single largest utility budget,” said Craig.