U.S. Breeders Remain Vigilant Amid Kenya Turmoil

January 11, 2008 - 15:43

Amid the violent aftermath of the disputed Dec. 27 presidential elections in Kenya — which has claimed the lives of more than 500 people, displaced thousands and hurt the tourism-heavy economy — business remains mostly as usual for large U.S. breeders with operations in the volatile region. But the need to remain vigilant and prepare for potential disruptions in business remains strong.

“The full effects haven’t been realized yet,” says Richard Goldsmith of Goldsmith Seeds. The multinational breeder and producer of hybrid flower seeds, based in Gilroy, Calif., operates a 120-acre cut flower farm in Naivasha, Kenya, for export to Europe. The town, located about an hour-and-a-half north of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, has “not seen much violence,” Richard says. “It hasn’t affected us other than the logistics of trying to get supplies in.”

Depending on how soon the current crisis is resolved, the economic effect of the country’s unrest — already hurting Kenya’s once thriving tourism market — could trickle to other industries. In a Jan. 11, 2008, article, The Washington Post reports that “ships docking at the port of Mombasa could not offload their goods destined for Kenya or elsewere in the region because transporters feared being attacked by militias who had set up roadblocks on some of Kenya’s main roads.”

While the company has been able to continue exporting its product without any major interruptions, Richard says restocking supplies necessary to run the farm may become difficult in the future if the situation continues. “It’s when things start running out. Trying to restock the things you need, it’s going to be a problem for all of us,” Richard says. “Unfortunately, with major arteries closed off for that time, it’s tough to get things going again.”

Grant Munn, who oversees the Goldsmith farm in Naivasha, said in an e-mail interview with GPN last week that “there is still an element of shock and disbelief at what happened.” The impact on the farm’s day-to-day operations has thus far been minimal, although “we have been cautious and restricted any travel plans and transport to essential services in order to avoid any violence that may be on the roads,” Munn says.

The farm usually operates on one to two months’ worth of supply for all items needed to run the farm, ranging from fertilizers to fuel for production. “We have enough supplies on the farm until the middle of February 2008, which were delivered in December 2007. We do anticipate some shortages over the next few weeks until the port of Mombasa, where most of the bulk supplies pass through, is cleared.”

The Dec. 27 election returned President Mwai Kibaki to power for another five-year term, with his opponent, Raila Odinga, coming in a close second, reports The Washington Post. Odinga and supporters say the election was rigged, unleashing a violent clash between the two opponents’ tribes, the Kikuyu (Kibaki) and Luo (Odinga), the paper reported last week, “Since the election, the Kikuyu have been targeted by the Luo and other groups, while the Luo and their fellow oppositionists have been brutalized by the police.” As of last Friday, a peaceful resolution had not been reached.

In spite of the grim present, Goldsmith and Munn say they are optimistic that Kenya will emerge from this unrest a more stable democracy.

“It’s growing pains from developing a democracy. It’s just a matter of being patient,” says Richard Goldsmith, who is personally touched by turmoil after having lived in Naivasha, Kenya, for four years, from 1986 to 1990.

Back in Naivasha, Munn says they will continue to take it one day at a time: “Kenyans by nature are hard-working and peaceful. The country relies heavily on international business including tourism and agricultural products for export. The violence needs to stop.”

Suzanne McKee, marketing and communications manager for Syngenta, which has a strong presence in Kenya, says, “While the situation remains pretty tense, our farms are operating as normal.”

Syngenta has not suffered any interruptions to shipment, but they are taking additional measures to safeguard the farms and make sure their employees are as safe as possible, McKee says.

Ecke Ranch, which also has operations in Kenya, could not be reached for comment at the time.

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