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The COVID-19 pandemic is boosting the sales of three exotic fruits – ginger, lime and papaya. But, in Uganda, though in high demand, farmers are afraid to start growing flowers.

More than 80 per cent of Ugandans are involved in agriculture but there are fears of little interest from young people, according to a recent article in Daily Monitor.

“Farmers think that flower growing is one of the most expensive and difficult businesses in Uganda that’s why few have invested in such a business of hortculture. Farmers have revealed how you can earn from this business when you have concentrated on it as your main income earning source.”

Despite the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic across the world, flower growers have registered a high demand of roses from international market and this has given them courage to invest more in this business.

Managing Director of Rosebud Limited in Entebbe,  Rajiv Ruparelia, says that the demand for cut roses on the international market during the lockdown was very high.

Apart from the availability of land, capital and seedlings, the farmer says drive and patience are key for success in flower farming. “Some had everything but lack of perseverance saw them give up, they now admire our strong will”, he says.

Ruparelia reveals they mainly grow the flowers organically to get an edge in the international market.The farmer says the main challenge is not pests or diseases but keeping the standards set by the world market. To meet the international certification, the roses must pass the billing.

Rosebud harvests thousands of flower stems in a day, amounting to more than 10,000 boxes each week. After harvesting the flowers, they keep them in a cold room for about an hour to make them remain fresh. Thereafter, they are removed and sorted according to sizes, and later graded.

“We then package the flowers according to colour and sizes and export directly to the market in Europe”, says Ruparelia who encourages anyone interested in flowers to grow them for both local and international market, though he says it is a capital and labour-intensive business.

The farm the Ruperalias started in 2000 with just about Shs100m on 13 hectares has expanded its worth to millions of shillings and employs more than 1,500 workers. He confesses that the flower farm gives him tranquillity. “Whenever I come to the flower farm, I just smell the roses and I feel very peaceful.”

Even as the business blossoms the road to the top has not been a bed of roses. “Despite bringing billions of shillings to the country, the industry has its own share of challenges including a not so friendly tax approach, costs of maintain standards and high labour charges,” says Ruparelia. He believes a tax holiday will encourage him to double the investment and employ more Ugandans.

However, since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, three exotic fruits seem to stand out with consumers. “Since March 2020, the sales of ginger, lime and papaya have been particularly dynamic. Today, they constitute our top 3 exotic sales,” explains François Moran of the Tropibana company located at the MIN of Rungis.

“This success is especially linked to the COVID effect. French consumers want to take better care of themselves by consuming more of certain fruit and vegetables that are known for their health benefits. It is the case of ginger, papaya and lime, rich in antioxidants.

‘’The success of the papaya goes back to the time when Pope Jean-Paul II was taking papaya-based dietary supplements. As a result, the health benefits of the fruit were recognized worldwide and papaya sales exploded.”

For the other exotic fruits, however, the demand was not very high this summer. “First of all, from July 15 to August 15, many French people were on holiday. The rainy weather also did not encourage consumption. From the end of this week, sales should pick up pace.

‘’But overall, we have worked rather well this year. We’ve had a very nice orange and clementine campaign from South Africa. Stone fruits were very expensive and the weather was not nice, so consumers turned to citrus fruits. We really sold a lot of oranges and clementines this year!”