Johannes Maree and Ben-Erik van Wyk are the co-authors of a new book entitled "Cut Flowers of the World", published recently by Briza. It is a full colour, user-friendly guide describing and illustrating more than 330 different species of commercially grown flowers, with emphasis on those commonly used in the cut flower industry. Karyn Richards asked Maree a few questions.
KR: What motivated you to write the book and was there any particular reasons you focused on cut flowers?
JM: I've always had a passion for writing as well as for cut flowers, and both of these form an integral part of my work as a consultant and botanist, so what a great thing to be able to combine both passions while on the job. Furthermore, there is no other book in the world like this one - it contains a mass of pertinent information and many years of practical knowledge all together, which you won't find on the Internet. We wrote this book not simply to produce 'another cut flower book' but because there was a need for it.
KR: How did it happen that you teamed up with Ben-Erik van Wyk?
JM: Prof. van Wyk was one of my lecturers during my honours degree studies at the University of Johannesburg (then RAU) so I have known him for a number of years now, although not as a close friend or colleague. However we met up again through a mutual friend at Briza Publishers, who knew we were both interested in writing a book on cut flowers. Prof. van Wyk has written about 15 books so far; we really seemed to 'click' and worked well together from the start. Over the three to four years we worked together on the book, we have become really good friends.
KR: What are your views on the South African cut flower industry - presently and for the future?
JM: The last few years have been difficult for the cut flower industry not only here, but for the entire global industry as well. However it is my view that the South African cut flower industry is presently operating way below its potential. There is still a growing demand for quality cut flower, both locally and abroad. The future looks bright so hopefully we can capitalize on the opportunities available.
KR: Which are good flowers to grow?
JM: Most established, large growers focus on cut flowers such as roses, chrysanthemums, carnations, lilies and gerberas. For this reason I would recommend to potential growers (especially if their setup is relatively small) to focus on niche products that can be used as fillers in mixed bouquets. The market is always looking for something new and something different.
KR: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a cut flower business?
JM: Do your homework thoroughly. Be prepared to work hard and always pay attention to detail. Never settle for second best - make sure you consistently grow top quality flowers. Throw the rubbish on the compost heap. Quality sells and quality always gets the top prices.
KR: It is expensive to set up a growing operation and what is needed in terms of the grower's knowledge?
JM: It can be very expensive to set up a new operation, especially if you intend to grow in climate controlled greenhouses. However, there are cheaper alternatives such as under shade cloth or in open fields. Just make sure you grow the right crops, as not all cut flowers will do well in open fields or under shade cloth, especially in the colder, drier areas of the country. Anyone starting a cut flower operation needs to have a general knowledge of the industry and an in-dept knowledge of the flowers they intend to grow. Alternatively you need to team up with knowledgeable people or hire qualified growers to work for you. I would say lack of capital and lack of knowledge are the two biggest hurdles to starting a cut flower farm.
KR: How does South Africa rate when compared to other African countries?
JM: Once again I feel South Africa is not where it should be on the world flower scene. There is a lot of competition from around the world and South Africa is ranked about 21st in terms of top cut flower producers and exporters. The biggest advantages South Africa has over other African countries is its better infrastructure and large local market. However when it comes to exporting, countries like Kenya are way ahead of us in terms of volumes, revenue and general market penetration, especially into Europe. Other African countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and even Zambia have really expanded their cut flower industry. Zimbabwe used to be one of the biggest rose exporters in the world but the political climate and resulting chaos has left their industry almost in tatters, and it is a shadow of its former glory.
KR: How do you think the rest of the world views the South African cut flower industry?
JM: We are viewed with a fair amount of importance and respect. Certain segments are better known and have secured better markets over the years, such as the protea industry in the Cape. There are however some top growers in this country who have established good markets for themselves over the years in other cut flowers such as roses and lilies. Multiflora in Johannesburg is well-known and respected, and is in fact the largest flower market in the southern hemisphere. South Africa is also seen by flower breeders around the world as one of the 'hot spots' for new and exciting plant material. Some of the top selling cut flowers in the world originated in Sough Africa such as gerberas, arum lilies, freesias and sword lilies. Unfortunately though, we are not the ones making the money from our own hertitage!