Kenya’s horticulture is grappling with numerous challenges among them high cost of production, transport, pests and diseases, participants in a meeting held in Nairobi have been told.
The sector also faces challenges resulting from climate change occasioned by droughts, floods and erratic weather conditions.
The country is a net importer of raw materials, making them expensive while there is also low investment in infrastructure.
Lack of adequate extension services, unfavourable market regulatory requirements, fragmented growers and limited access to information are among other challenges facing the sector.
These were among the sentiments raised during a consultative meeting held on October 18, 2022 at Ibis Hotel Nairobi between the public and private sector players in the horticultural sector.
Attendants sought to discuss issues on food safety, give an overview of the industry, emerging issues and interventions.
“We are facing stiff competition from other countries due to high cost of production, farm inputs, transport among others,” said Mr Hosea Machuki, the CEO of Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK).
In a recent convergence in Spain, for example, a country from West Africa presented the price of French beans at Sh182 (USD1.5) per kilo on arrival to the European country.
In Kenya though, he added, the cost of freight for a similar amount of produce to the same destination stands at Sh219 (USD1.8).
“If you add other costs to the cost of freight, it means we cannot even speak while some other countries are presenting their price offers,” said Mr Machuki.
Cess payment system
He called for cancellation of the cess payment system where collection is done at entry of every county while transporting produce. Instead, FPEAK recommended that cess only be charged at the county where a product originates.
Besides the horticultural sector being a top foreign exchange earner, it also employs more than six million people while another 3.5 million benefit indirectly through related activities.
According to the Agriculture ministry, the sub sector is private sector driven, with the government playing regulatory, research, market facilitation, policy development and capacity building roles.
According to the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA), the country earned about Sh157 billion in exports in 2021 from a total plantation estimated at 400ha.
In 2019, a programme supported by the European Union (EU) was launched with the aim of enhancing food safety and market competitiveness for select fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices.
Dubbed Market Access Upgrade Program (Markup) Kenya, the programme is implemented in 12 counties across the country.
In his presentation, Markup Kenya National Project Coordinator Maina Karuiru said the programme has made milestones on, among others, various aspects of food safety, standards and regulatory framework.
The programme provided detailed comments on the Food Safety Policy 2021 and the Food and Feed Safety Control Coordination Bill, 2021, during the national stakeholder validation workshop in February 2022. The bill has since been submitted to Parliament for debate and enactment into law.
“Markup Kenya also procured and delivered certified reference materials (CRMs) for laboratories at Kebs (Kenya Bureau of Standards) to help improve accuracy of the test results while 18 master trainers have been trained on the food safety inspection system, ” said Mr Karuiru.
Additionally, the programme has trained 246 county extension officers on market access requirements while 1,416 farmers from nine counties have received trainings on global good agricultural practices (GAP) on selected value chains.
There have been several changes in traditional markets between 2013 and 2019 with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates being new entrants.
Decline in exports
But there has been a decline in exports to United Kingdom, France, Germany and Russia while Norway has registered an increase in uptake of the same.
Among achievements for the sector presented by AFA include complete automation of the dealership registrations and licensing exercise and rolling out of the Kenya Standard — KS 1758 — which ensures certification of farms and monitoring of residues.
Some of the interventions include establishment of a national traceability system, review of contracts for common user packing facility, compliance to set rules, regulations and strict adherence to market requirements.
“The outcomes of the deliberations will guide the future interventions in the horticulture industry and exporting companies will be informed on actions and some recommendations in the meeting,” said Christine Misiko, a knowledge and communications expert at Markup Kenya.