[Column] Hosea Machuki: Kenya can double its horticulture export earnings
The Kenya horticulture sector is set to undergo major changes as the country fights to consolidate its international markets.
Through the implementation new standard, the KS1758 Part Two for fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, the sector will be put under regulations that must be proved before being allowed to handle export produce.
This means that from farm to folk, all processes along the chain must be recorded as a measure to show that a product has adhered to every laid down procedure without exception.
The processes are captured in an electronic system called the National Horticulture Traceability System which raises the red flag at the earliest detection of negligence. This way, no produce will move to the next stage essentially eliminating the possibility of contaminated products getting to the final end.
Kenya has since 2012 faced challenges in the EU over exedence of pesticide residues and quarantine pests that has cost the country billions of shillings in export losses leading to the new development. The industry, government and development partners have spent the last five years developing systems to ensure that the challenges of excess pesticides and presence of quarantine pests does not haunt the industry ever again.
The KS1758 Part Two will be launched next month together with an umbrella council created by the Kenya Flower Council and FPEAK to enable the horticulture industry articulate specific sector concerns jointly. Initially, the Flower Council and FPEAK dealt with sub-sector matters individually leading to delays in responding as well as increased costs but going forward, biting issues will be jointly addressed.
The Kenya Horticulture Council is not a merger as has been erroneously reported in the past, but a joint body that will be looking at shared industry issues like lobbying, treceability and marketing. Both KFC and FPEAK will continue to implement their separate mandates individually. Both the Council and the National Traceability System have been supported by USAID through the Kenya Agriculture Value Chain Enterprises.
The KS 1758 Part Two comes two years after its predecessor; KS 1758 Flowers and Ornamentals was launched (in 2015). Both standards bring all exporters and handlers under a standard practice and will be the basis on which export permits are issued in the coming years. This will eliminate the possibility of any rogue practice and lack of proper documentation that has in the past led to expensive interceptions at the market entry in the EU.
The horticulture industry is a key sector in Kenya’s economy and one that has put the country in the world map, as our produce – flowers, fruits and vegetables enjoy unmatched demand based on quality, taste and availability yea-round. Latest data indicates the sector earned Ksh102.5 billion in 2016, in foreign exchange earnings, the second largest after tea with a 10 per cent steady growth despite the many challenges, with a GDP contribution of Ksh 200 billion.
We can export more since the demand in the markets is high and growing by the day. With the drought of 2016-2017 hitting production, we must employ innovativemeasures to ensure our volumes stay constant and on the rise for markets reliability. Many consumers especially in Europe love Kenyan produce but when volumes go down for whatever reason, they are forced tolook for alternative fresh produceelsewhere and are unlikely to come back. This is why we must guard our market jealously.
The American market is ready for our produce, and with the upcoming launching of direct flights to Washington, we should tap intothis market by training moregrowers and exporters on the necessary requirements. Kenya’s avocados and mangoes have massive opportunities in the US given our unique seasonality and production window that does not have competition from the rest of the countries that supply the US.
Hosea Machuki is the CEO Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya