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Simple and vivid.
The process of growing poinsettias starts every year in Africa. From there, the plant cuttings are flown to Europe where they are nurtured into perfect plants.
The sun is almost vertically above us in the sky and is baking the clay of the roads along Lake Victoria into what feels like concrete. Low, hand‑made speed bumps across the track force vehicles down to walking pace multiple times. Those who dare to drive faster will risk breaking their axles. “These obstacles have two advantages,” explains Peter Muwanga. “On the one hand, it means that no‑one speeds along here kicking up dust. And on the other, it gives local traders the opportunity to offer their products to passing motorists. That’s just how it is here in Uganda.”
Muwanga drives his Axor 1823 with refrigerated body almost daily along the route between Wagagai and Entebbe airport. Both the driver and the load get a good shaking despite the low speed. Muwanga is used to it, and his precious cargo of poinsettia cuttings is also safely packed in the refrigerated body. From these, nurseries in Europe will later be able to grow the popular plants. “My cargo has never missed a flight,” Muwanga explains proudly. “That’s because our Axor is 100 percent reliable!”
Muwanga’s employer is Wagagai Farm, which is situated around an hour’s drive away from Uganda’s capital, Kampala. Selecta One, a horticultural firm from Germany has leased large parts of the farm, among other things, for cultivating poinsettias.
The company operates on the basis of intensive distribution of work. Muwanga and the team of around 1,000 colleagues on the farm for the harvest only ever get to see the green leaves of the mother plants. “And from those, we only need the shoots which we then transport as cuttings on the quickest possible route,” explains the driver. The only way to do that is to transport them by air. In Europe, the poinsettias then grow to their full size and mature until their colourful crown has developed.
Massive amounts of work precede the harvest of the cuttings. And the highest possible hygiene levels. The nursery is located in Wagagai within a secure and perfectly ventilated greenhouse. Anyone wishing to enter the area has to don overalls, gloves and special shoes and must wash their hands intensively. Once inside, it is forbidden to touch the plants. “There are hundreds of diseases which could attach our plants,” says Selecta One’s Production Manager Wilson Keter. “If the hygiene rules are consistently respected, we can do away with poisonous pesticides.”
million cuttings are supplied annually from Uganda by Selecta One.
“If the hygiene rules are consistently respected, we can do away with poisonous pesticides.”
hectares of land are used on the Wagagi Farm.
Here in Uganda, cultivation of poinsettias – which incidentally originally came from Mexico – enjoy one major benefit: the climate. The equatorial country lies on a plateau and borders Lake Victoria. This means it is neither too hot nor too cold, and there is no shortage of fresh water for watering the plants. “From an ecological standpoint, it makes sense to produce the cuttings in Africa,” says Keter. “The CO₂ emissions which heating greenhouses in Europe would produce exceed by far the carbon footprint which we currently have when transporting the cuttings by air.”
A nose for trends.
The journey of the cuttings generally goes directly to Brussels and Amsterdam. From there, they then have a short journey to the buyers in places like France, the Netherlands and Germany, where Selecta One customers like Inga Balke grow the plants to their full splendour. The trained agricultural engineer runs the Krayenhagen nursery in Holstein, a traditional family company.
The company takes environmental protection very seriously: Inga Balke only works with non‑harmful plant protection products. Even beneficial insects such as spider mites and ichneumon wasps are used in order, for example, to hinder the spread of the dreaded white fly. And by way of heating, the plant nursery uses a local farmer’s biogas system.
Balke runs the business with a great deal of dedication and know‑how. But she also needs a good nose for trends: “I need to decide early on in the year which sorts and which colours should be planted for the coming season. If I get it wrong, then I end up stuck with the products. That would mean several months of hard work simply wasted.”
At one o’clock in the morning, while most people are sleeping, Balke sets up shop every day at Hamburg’s wholesale flower market where she brings her plants to her customers. In the Advent period, she mostly has poinsettias on‑board her Atego 818. Until 8:30 a.m., she’s trading with the florists from the region. Then Balke returns back to her own business.
Balke is happy to get behind the wheel of the red Atego with heated Wilke box body herself. “Although the truck is fairly large, it drives almost like a regular car.” The entrepreneur especially likes the PowerShift 3 automated gearshift. “I don’t have to change gear and so I can concentrate fully on the traffic.”
Balke thus glides along the roads of northern Germany in her comfortable Atego, while Peter Muwanga is underway on rough tracks and has to rely on the robustness of his Axor. He always has to keep his freight cool, while Balke needs to heat hers to prevent it from freezing in the winter. But there is one thing that the two share: they are both great fans of Mercedes trucks and poinsettias.
Photos: Allan Gichigi, Christian Schmid
Video: Martin Schneider‑Lau