The issue of the modal shift from air to sea freight has been given additional fuel by Kenya’s plan to move half of its produce exports by sea in the next 10 years. The impact on important perishables hubs like Brussels and Amsterdam is yet to be assessed.
The ocean freight project is led by the Netherlands, supported by Denmark and the European Union. For the latter, it is part of the Business Environment and Export Enhancement Program (BEEEP). It will be implemented by Trademark Africa, an aid-for-trade organization, established to increase prosperity through trade.
According to a press release, the overall goal of the scheme is to enhance the competitiveness and raise the share of exports of Kenyan avocados, mangoes, and vegetables to Europe and other international markets. [There is no mention of cut flowers, ms.] Part of the implementation initiatives will focus on resolving the production, storage, logistics, and value addition challenges that the horticultural sector faces.
Less tulips for Amsterdam?
Both Amsterdam and Brussels are among the EU’s major import hubs for perishables, but the Kenyan initiative is not yet a top priority on the discussion tables.
Still, as it stands, the position of flowers at Amsterdam-Schiphol is an important issue as the airport is a key gateway for the flower auction at nearby Aalsmeer, says Managing Director of Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN), Maarten van As. “In practice, we see that Schiphol, due to the on-going pressure on slots, is no longer the only gateway for flowers from Kenya. And we find indeed that flowers, too, are shipped by a different mode: sea freight.”
The official goes on to say: “This calls for talks with the stakeholders on a vision for the future. What will flower logistics look like in the future? The Erasmus University (Rotterdam) is currently researching the value of cargo flows at Schiphol. Seabury has looked into the impact on cargo aircraft as a result of the movements contraction at Schiphol. This may turn out to be dramatic if no mitigating measures are taken.”
Within Air Cargo Belgium’s steering group ‘Fresh’, the issue has not been discussed yet, says its chairman Christophe Eulaerts. On the other hand, he says that there have been air cargo capacity problems on this route for some time.
Both as the Fresh chairman and as a freight forwarder – Mr Eulaerts is also Director Perishables Air & Sea at DSV Belgium and Luxembourg – he takes an interest in the matter, he admits. “As a company, we do both sea and air. But, for flowers, I do not see how the sea option could work.”
Sea freight – addition or alternative to air?
That ocean can become a realistic option to air, despite a significantly longer journey from field to shop, is demonstrated by Kuehne+Nagel which launched a project transporting cut flowers in reefer containers. The shipment consisted of carnations, roses, and alstroemeria. They were harvested in Kenya and shipped to Rotterdam, from where they were distributed to Germany and the UK. After harvesting, they were immediately cooled down to transport temperature. This temperature was maintained throughout the entire journey which lasted more than two weeks. Although the vessel stopped over a couple of times, the flowers reached Rotterdam in very good condition, assures Kuehne+Nagel.
Ocean freight is often still underestimated when it comes to transporting flowers, the agent’s message reads. However, if handled with care and packed in boxes specifically designed for the transport of sensitive goods, shipping cut flowers by sea can be a meaningful addition to make supply chains greener and more competitive, provided the cool chain is maintained throughout the entire journey.
That said, it could be that Mr. Eulaerts and DSV will have to review their position on the transport of flowers by sea. And probably not just them.
Marcel Schoeters / Heiner Siegmund
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