The horticulture industry in Kenya is optimistic of quick recovery as global space slowly opens after the Covid-19 disruption.
Export earnings hit Ksh 72 billion between January and May 2020, up from Ksh 65 billion for the same period last year, translating to an 11 percent increase.
According to Okisegere Ojepat, Fresh Produce Consortium – Kenya CEO, the good earnings are largely attributed to the country’s ability to ship out produce during the pandemic, serving a rising demand for food.
“We were in the shelves when nobody else was, resulting in increased orders and attraction of new buyers,” Ojepat said.
He added, “I haven’t encountered a situation when all of us worked in a seamless coordination to ensure our produce got to the markets that have in turn rewarded the country.
Ojepat noted that the Kenya Airports Authority(KAA) was roped in to update the organizations on availability of the scarce cargo space and came in handy, offering its passenger planes to fly to Europe to deliver cargo despite not making profits.
“Kenya Airways did it for the country, understanding that after the pandemic we will need our markets. Market presence was more important than making money”, he added.
Ojepat has made a call to exporters and government to support the national carrier to thrive saying that if Kenya airways came through for them then the airline should be supported to get back into profitability.
Trade Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina when speaking at the Kenya Export Strategy 2020 Webinar organized by the Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency last week said the country expected the worst but earnings are up.
“Our export sector did Kenya proud, an indication of Kenya’s potential to protect its markets by ensuring products reached the markets in a challenging environment”, she said
The Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency CEO Wilfred Marube said the sector brought out the best of the country’s resilience at beating the odds to keep the ‘produce of Kenya’ label in the global shelves, a sacrifice that has not only secured existing markets but also created new avenues for Kenya’s flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables.
It was a tough call for exporters especially in the flower sector who had to balance between maintaining a market presence, destroying beautiful flowers, sending workers home, keeping plants breathing and protecting their farms from the virus.
To accord fresh produce clearance, farms and firms staff required access documents Dr. Marube added that the coordination of the movement of produce from farms to the airport in a pandemic challenge remains a proud moment for Kenya
Various players in the industry came through despite the difficult situation to ensure presence and notably was reinforcement through the Kenya Private Sector Alliance led Caravan of Hope initiative led by Elgon Kenya Managing Director Bimal Kantaria that saw flowers flown through KQ to the UK for donation to hospitals.
Trish Patel, Head of marketing at PJ Dave, whose 80 per cent of orders were cancelled said that they continued shipping the little orders coming through to secure future markets for Kenya. “Market presence meant selling flowers, not to make money but to maintain a presence for Kenya”, he said,
Oserian Development Company Administration Director Mary Kinyua said the market is opening up slowly and barring any other disruptions, they should be back to full business by end of year.
During the first three months of COVID 19, Oserian farm exports fell from 1 million stems per day to about 350,000 throwing the company, like many others, into a financial strain.
Craig Oulton, General Manager, Floriculture, Kisima Farm based in Timau said “March 15 is a day I will not forget in my life”, the date is etched in the minds of many, being the day President Uhuru Kenyatta declared no entry no exit from Nairobi, the distribution center for fresh produce exports.
He however lauded the Kenya Flower Council (KFC) saying aware that restrictions would be affected had a week earlier alerted its members to take steps to ensure trucks got cleared at the roadblocks,
The KFC did a great job”, said Oulton, reflecting the sentiments of many flower exporters who lauded the council for obtaining the necessary documents with speed. “I am very proud of the Kenya government and private sector associations for the cooperation between the various agencies to ensure our flowers reached the markets”, he said.
The Avocado Society of Kenya CEO Ernest Muthomi said they were largely unknown but within 24 hours during the time of the pandemic, it shot into the limelight for just for securing avocado clearance.
“The efforts put in place during this time has earned Kenya avocados the highest foreign exchange for the period ever and has opened new markets and demand even in countries where Kenya doesn’t have phytosanitary protocols”, he said
Veteran Exporter Tiku Shah of Sunripe who ships frozen avocados to China said the Government did a fantastic job saying that effective coordination between KAA and exporters’ lobbyists enabled planning of freights making it possible for Kenya’s produce to be in the markets.
Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya CEO Hoseah Machuki thanked the government for listening to the industry and clearing logistical challenges to enable products to get to the markets.
Nairobi hosts the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) through which fresh produce flies out daily to the various destinations across the world. The ‘lockdown’ came as the industry was grappling with cancellation of orders at a critical season (March-May) covering Mother’s Day, International Women’s Day, UK Mother’s Day and the Easter holidays.
By Wangari Ndirangu