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Outcry over pilots’ strike

Stakeholders involved in the export of fresh produce now want the government to amicably resolve the industrial dispute pitting the management of the Kenya Airways (KQ) and the pilots, to avert further loss of revenue in the sector.

The group under the auspices of Fresh Produce consortium of Kenya (FPCK) expressed fears that the sector had so far lost over Ksh 500 million since the Kenya Airways crew downed tools.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Mithika Linturi, addressing participants during the food safety meeting on Monday, November, 7th 2022.

CEO (FPCK) Okisegere Ojepat said losses were recorded after transit cargo of fresh produce for export went stale at the airports during the standoff and urged the concerned parties to reach out and strike a return to work deal.

“Producers and traders using KQ to lift their cargo to various export destinations are suffering greatly and we are calling on the Government to use all the labour relations mechanisms to end the strike for the sake of the local economy”, he said.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi said the local horticulture industry suffered as over 100 metric tonnes of fresh produce destined for export was still in warehouses awaiting the elusive airlift to various destinations.

“The impact of the KQ pilots’ strike to the local horticulture industry is huge as majority of producers and traders rely on the national carrier to ship their fresh produce to various exports destinations globally especially European Union (EU),” said Linturi.

Linturi explained that at least 75 per cent of the fresh produce affected cut flowers while the remaining 25 per cent was raw meat.

He confirmed that although other airlines that ship fresh produce cargo such as KLM, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt and Air France have not been interrupted, it was unfortunate that the strike has a had a huge impact on the local economy

He said that the strike will therefore be a wakeup call that will prompt the government to think of new strategies to pursue and ensure exports are not disrupted.

“Going forward, the Government will look into the matter and also try to talk to also private players to invest in cargo business so that in future if an industrial action emerges the same will not have great impact on the horticulture industry.

The meeting was organized by French based inspection and Accreditation Company -Bureau Veritas and FPCK to create awareness and promote food safety along the agriculture value chain.

The CS in his remarks then had said that through the Horticultural Crops Directorate, Kenya Bureau of Standards, other stakeholders recently established a Kenyan Standard dubbed KS 1758: 2015 & KS 1758: 2016 addressing food safety and traceability along the agriculture value chain for fresh produce.

He added that the partnership between FPCK and other strategic partners including USAID, Bureau Veritas among others have rolled out programs from which producers, farmers, supermarkets, groceries, county markets, consolidators, pack houses and exporters will benefit through knowledge transfer and assistance in the implementation of KS 1758 Standard.

This will also enhance the quality and safety of products, he added hence leading to increased trade in the domestic and international markets.

He commended the Bureau Veritas on their certification of nine (9) individual producers and one group of farmers this year to the KS1758, calling upon more farmers and stakeholders to embrace the KS 1758 Standard.

Harry Kimtai Principal Secretary of livestock confirmed that the ministry in conjunction with agriculture stakeholders has formulated the Food Policy and Food Safety Bill as part of the strategy to enhance food safety locally.

The food policy he said has passed through the necessary stakeholder participation and soon will be submitted to the cabinet.

“We have already prepared a cabinet memo which will be presented to the cabinet soon so that the document can be approved,” said Mr. Kimtai.

The Food Policy and also the Bill, he explained was prompted by having silos and independent agencies regulating food within their own jurisdiction and this had been affecting the country in terms of not working in a coordinated manner.

The safety bill, the PS noted will bring in a food safety coordinator at national level who will be looking at each agency and following up while the government will be looking at the risk audit.

Ojepat said there is need to ensure that the food consumed from farm to fork is safe noting that government awarding the first ever KS 1758 Standard Certificate ensuring safe food to one farm was a step in the right direction

“Since the enactment of the KS1758, 11 open air markets including Wakulima and Kongowea have adopted it and five more markets will have fully adopted the same before the end of the year”, he added.

Ojepat acknowledged though there have been challenges of the weather patterns but said he was happy that the uptake is improving with more enquiries from hotels, restaurants, commercial farms and other eateries.

“So far we have trained 300 different market managers as part of ensuring the application of the standards is deepened,” he added.

By next year, Ojepat assured that the narrative on food safety will have changed completely and this will contribute to high trade and less cases of food related diseases.

The government in July 2021, through the agriculture ministry launched KS1758, a code of practice for the horticulture industry in Kenya which stipulates the hygienic and safety requirements during the production, handling and marketing of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.

Speaking during the issuance of the certificate to the company, the PS, state department of Livestock in the Ministry of Agriculture Harry Kimutai explained that the standard is an all-round encompassing area of fresh produce namely plant health, food safety, environmental sustainability and worker health, safety and social accountability.

By Wangari Ndirangu

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