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Valentine’s Day: Agony of former Karuturi workers

Rose Muthoni @rosemuthoniN

As couples across the globe prepare to exchange roses to mark Valentines Day –the day of love – only memories of fresh roses remain for former Karuturi Flower Farm workers struggling to make ends meet.

Had it been a few years back, days leading to February 14, would have seen a beehive of activities in this farm as workers got ready to warm the hearts of millions of lovebirds worldwide.

That is why it was once considered the gold standard of flower exportation, as Karuturi Ltd could fly out more than a million stems a day with refrigerated trucks leaving for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) daily, as over 3,000 workers enjoyed a life of good financial tidings.

Compared to its competitors, Karuturi offered good salary and overtime bonuses to its workers. Fresh jobseekers thronged the farm for jobs daily.

But things went south, turning the farm, once decorated by rows of beautiful roses, into an eyesore.

Gone are the lush green fields and greenhouses that adorned the farm and instead metal frames, stripped of their vinyl plastic shading, and overgrown rose bushes and weeds have taken their place.

But perhaps, the ones to suffer the most after the giant fell, were former workers who up to now are demanding their salary arrears, amounting to more than Sh200 million.

A former employee Thomas Komo says the farm was doing well while under its original owners, Gerrit and Peter Barnhoorn of Sher Agencies. The rains, however, started beating them when Karuturi Global Ltd took over, renaming the farm Sher Karuturi.

“But once it was put under receivership, hardships worsened. We would work for months on end without any payment. Then one day, our jobs were no more,” he adds. The flower farm was put under receivership and as if to add salt to injury, the worker’s savings and credit co-operative society, Sheracco, went down with their savings.

Cash crunch

Our sacco had fraudsters who stole our money and ran away with our savings,” says Martin Odoyo who worked at Karuturi for 14 years. All the businesses which leveraged the presence of Karuturi farm are struggling due to a biting cash crunch. As it now stands, the region has very few customers while even the remaining ones buy goods and services on credit due to shortage of cash.

“The business centre has cash flow challenges because former Karuturi workers have no money. They are busy hustling and the little they get is used to buy food,” says Odoyo, whose food kiosk, which he set up after losing his job, sees little or no business.

Some of Karuturi camps’ inhabitants have taken to fish poaching in Lake Naivasha with scores returning home with injuries after unfortunate encounters with hippos. Odoyo claims that 75 per cent of fish poachers are former Karuturi employees.

Drusilla Kenyanya, after losing her job, ventured into the shores of the lake to sell fish. Fish here are sold cheaply with a medium sized Tilapia that retails for Sh500 in Nairobi, going for Sh100.“The money I get for this venture is only enough to feed my family. The competition here is stiff, forcing us to sell our fish at throw-away prices,” she says

In its heyday, Karuturi built a hospital and mortuary for its workers, to ensure that together with their dependants, they could access the best healthcare possible. But now, the doors to Karuturi hospital and mortuary are closed, leaving the sick to fend for themselves even in times when most formers workers have no means to pay for healthcare.

Small cubicle

People Daily took a tour of Naivasha to experience first-hand what life has dished Karuturi’s former employees.Musa Migwi has a blank look in his eyes as he welcomes us into his small cubicle which he shares with his wife Faith Wanjira.

At the time, the elderly Wanjira is out selling firewood to put a meal on the table. Migwi nurses the dying embers of a jiko fire which he relies on to keep the leg pain he has had for years at bay. His legs are swollen.

He was pricked by a metal shard while working at the flower farm. He sought medical care at the company’s expense at Karuturi Hospital but the injury eventually rendered him incapable of doing any manual jobs.

The hospital, however, managed his condition at no expense thanks to the fact that he was injured while at work and because Wanjira still held a job at the farm. However, after the hospital’s closure, which happened immediately after Karuturi Flower Farm was closed, Migwi has no means of accessing medical care.

“My wife’s meagre earnings from the firewood business cannot foot medical expenses. It is only enough to feed us,” says Migwi whose communication has also been impaired by old age. The same fate befell his neighbour, Milka Chideli, who has suffered a myriad of illnesses in the past three years. Since Karuturi’s gates were closed, she had no means to manage her Asthma.

“I do not have money to go to the hospital. Whenever things take a turn for the worst, I rely on loans from neighbours to access medical care,” she says.

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