Climate change key challenge to horticulture, stakeholders say

 horticultural products

Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya CEO Hosea Machuki displays some horticultural products during a conference at Safari Park Hotel. Stakeholders in the horticulture sector have said the industry has been negatively affected by climate change, leading to reduced earnings.

Photo credit: Rachel Kibui | Nation Media Group

Climate change and its effect was among the challenges which prominently featured on the first day of the fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices conference being held at Nairobi’s Safari Park Hotel Wednesday and Thursday.

This comes at a time the country is facing one of the worst droughts ever experienced in the last four decades, causing food shortage and deaths of livestock and wildlife.

Other challenges include diseases and pests like false codling moth, fruit flies, white flies and thrips, among others, both of which have been increasing amid climate change.

Yet, amid these challenges, the lucrative export market remains strict on required standards for products that are sold on the global market, while quality and food safety remains key for both local and international markets.

In a bid to discuss these challenges and look for sustainable solutions, stakeholders are having a two-day conference, bringing together government representatives, private sector, exporters, academia and development partners, among others.

Water supply decrease

In his speech, Horticulture Crops Directorate (HCD) Director Benjamin Tito said climate change had caused a sharp decrease in water supply, thus leading to competition for the same, yet the horticulture sector depends on a stable water supply.

“Since 2019 there was a growth Sh144 billion while 2020 earnings were Sh150 billion rising to Sh157 billion last year,” said Mr Tito.

However, Mr Tito projected a Sh30 billion drop this year, which will translate to 17 per cent decline.

With over 90 per cent of smallholder farmers depending on rain-fed agriculture, there is need to employ water-harvesting mechanisms when it rains, while ways of extracting ground water should also be exploited, he told the participants.

Exporters echoed his sentiments, saying the harvest per acre had significantly reduced owing to climate change, among other challenges.

“We used to harvest an average of 4.5 to 5 tonnes of French beans per acre some years back. But today you would be lucky to harvest two thirds of this amount from the same piece of land,” said an exporter who is also a farmer.

Re-negotiate export terms

He urged the government to re-negotiate terms with export markets, saying some conditions like strictly exporting straight French beans were not necessary.

Ms Jane Wambugu, the deputy director of agriculture at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Production officially opened the event.

Ms Wambugu, who is also the head of marketing and agriculture advisory services, hailed the event’s organisers saying it was an opportunity to reflect on Kenya’s horticulture and nuts sector and seek ways of ensuring access to more markets locally, regionally and internationally.

“There are more than 150,000 small scale farmers participating in various value chains for the export market, with large scale farmers-small scale linkages as a driving force as well as marketing strength,” said Ms Wambugu, while reading a speech on behalf of Agriculture and Livestock Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi.

Opportunities welcome

European Union Kenya Delegation Programme Manager Stephen Wathome said opportunities for conferences, exhibitions and one-to-one interactions of fruits, vegetables and herbs farmers is both crucial and welcome.

“Without doubt, it is from such a forum that various players get informed and enlightened as they engage along the farm to fork chain,” he added.

EU Chief Technical Advisor for Markup Kenya Stefano Sedola said the programme has been working towards increasing market access and enhancing food safety for the selected value chains, adding that the conference is among many activities geared towards this quest.

“Within the framework of the Markup Kenya project, critical challenges along the horticulture supply chain have been identified,” said Mr Sedola.

“These challenges include a lack of a risk-based approach for food safety management, control and inspection systems along the entire value chain, a weak ‘farm to fork’ based traceability system, a sustained provision of clean planting materials to the farmers that are marketable which has adversely impacted the production of high-quality, market-oriented produce,” he added.

Implemented in 12 counties across the country, Markup Kenya reaches to farmers at the grassroots as well as relevant institutions at the national level.

With only five per cent of produce selling on the export market, Mr Sedola noted that there are opportunities to explore more markets, increase exports and widen the geographical scope of produce destinations.