Horticulture is strategic in achieving the country’s Vision 2030 objective of becoming a middle income economy.
The sector produces more than 7 million Metric Tonnes of fruits and vegetables annually, employs directly and indirectly more than 6.5 million people and provides livelihood for rural households with more than Sh200 billion farm gate value of produce sales yearly.
As part of demonstrating the value of the sector and facilitation of better access to the export market, Kenya rolled out a national pesticide residue sampling and monitoring programme implemented by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service in collaboration with Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), Kenya Association of Fruits and Vegetables Exporters (Kefe) and supported by USAID.
This entails collection of samples based on risk profiling of agricultural zones and analysing the samples in the laboratory.
Some 3,200 samples of fruits and vegetables are tested of pesticide residue annually under the programme.
The regular pre-export sampling and residual analysis has encouraged safe use of pesticides which is validated by significant reduction in interceptions of produce associated with exceedance of pesticides maximum residue limits.
Over the last four years, the Horticultural Crops Directorate in collaboration with FPEAK and Kefe through USAID support have developed a cloud based national horticulture traceability system.
The system has increased transparency and accountability in horticultural supply chain encouraging safe use of pesticides and market confidence in Kenya as a source of safe produce.
This resulted in delisting of Kenyan beans from 10 per cent inspection in July 2015 in the European Union regulations 669/2009 and reduction of pea’s inspection from 10 per cent to 5 percent in July.
MANDATORY TRAINING ON FOOD SAFETY
The overall result has been Kenya’s horticulture exports crossing for the first time the Sh100 billion mark in 2016.
It is undisputable that local production of fruits and vegetables is an essential and integral part of national food security.
However, there has been a number of negative food safety reports linked to fresh fruits and vegetables in the domestic market over the last three years.
The reports are based on sampling and testing by academia and researchers of pesticide residues, heavy metals and pathogenic micro-organisms on fresh fruits and vegetables especially in Nairobi.
The reports cited the presence of calcium carbide in ripened bananas, mangoes and oranges and heavy metals (lead and cadmium), pathogenic micro-organisms and pesticide residues in leafy vegetables.
Establishing a sustainable food safety system for the domestic market is an area that needs strategic interventions.
The value chain approach to food safety and quality recognises that the responsibility of supplying safe produce is shared by all participants in the value chain from production, transporting, processing and trade, to government departments mandated with regulating the industry and including consumers.
In view of this, the government in consultation with other stakeholders, has prioritised mandatory training on food safety of all operators before issuance of licence as a dealer.
To address specific concerns over pesticide safety, the industry has initiated re-evaluation of the safety of crop protection products with a view of harmonising the acceptable levels of pesticide residues on all fresh produce along international standards.
FPEAK and Kefe are working with the Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (AAK) to develop a strategy to streamline the trainings in responsible use of pesticides being offered by various parties in Kenya.
Michuki is the Chief Executive Officer of FPEAK