State to upgrade Eldoret International Airport to boost exports

Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen (left) confers with Eldoret International Airport Manager Walter Agong during the Horticulture Industry Stakeholders Forum at Boma Inn Hotel in Eldoret on August 31, 2023

The national government has embarked on plans to expand the Eldoret International Airport to handle bigger planes and more cargo.

Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen on Sunday (September 3) revealed plans to expand the runway from 3.5 kilometres to 4.1 kilometres, acquire an additional 50 acres, put up a jet fuel station and install more cold rooms and safety facilities.

He said the airport remains underutilised due to lack of adequate facilities despite handling up to 12,000 metric tonnes of imported cargo annually, including electronics, garments and motor-vehicle spare parts.

“We believe that four kilometres is enough to handle any cargo plane. We know the current capacity of the 3.5 km runway allows only 55 metric tonnes of cargo plane to take off,” Mr Murkomen said, adding that: “We’ll have a jet fuel station so that shortage of fuel at the airport will be a thing of the past. In the next two or three years, the airport will not be the same.”

He was speaking during a two-day horticulture conference in Eldoret.  Mr Murkomen also revealed plans for a joint marketing strategy to improve production of horticultural crops for export and revamp railway and road transport.

Kenyan flowers account for 40 per cent of the cut flowers in the European market, with an estimated four million Kenyans relying on the industry. Flower farms in the North Rift region are forced to transport the produce by road to Nairobi.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi said the government was committed to sourcing markets for agricultural produce.

He urged the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) to step up surveillance and enforcement to ensure local produce meets the requirements for export markets.

AFA Chairperson Cornel Serem said the export of low-quality avocados export was hurting the country's reputation.

“We still have an issue with our exporters who export immature avocados. I was in China the other day and they said they ready to take up to 100,000 metric tonnes of avocados but the problem is that we don't export the right quality. We urge you to work together with our crop officers to ensure that we comply with the conditions of our export markets,” said Mr Serem.

Bungoma Governor Kenneth Lusaka, who also chairs the agriculture committee at the Council of Governors, called for the establishment of incentives to increase the output of horticultural produce.

“We need tax breaks on farm inputs and financial incentives to farmers,” said Mr Lusaka.

Cargo flights resumed at the airport after traders operating under the Kenya Association of International Cargo Consolidators (KAICC) signed an agreement with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) that will allow individual trader to pay taxes for each item shipped into the country through the facility.

“Whereas we accepted the conditions so as to resume service, this will definitely have adverse effect on cargo volumes due to the unpredictable nature of tax computation because it's based either on customer declared values or KRA determined values,” KAICC Secretary-General Abdirahman Bashir said.

“We will therefore seek a review of the unit values based taxation, to an enhanced per kilogramme rate for this category of cargo. We believe, this will yield higher revenues for the government and create a predictable and stable environment for importers,” added Mr Bashir. Cargo flights at the facility have reduced from five to one weekly as a result of a go-slow by the traders.

“Suspension of flights has seen 83 per cent reduction in cargo and has come at a cost, including penalties from airlines due to termination of long-term contracts. Furthermore, it became challenging for consolidators to secure flights when services resumed, as many flights had been rerouted,” Mr Bashir, said.