Hosea Machuki is the chief executive officer of Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK). He spoke to Brian Okinda on fruits and vegetables to grow for the export market, challenges facing farmers and how to overcome them and guarantee food safety standards
In your assessment, how is the country’s fruits and vegetables sector fairing?
Fruits and vegetables present a good opportunity for farmers, exporters and other people in the value chain to reap from farming.
The Kenyan market, both domestic and export is growing but limited by the production capacity of the current farmers.
What challenges are farmers who grow vegetables and fruits experiencing?
There are a number of challenges that face farmers in the horticulture sub-sector which include:
1) Low incentives in terms of local market prices.
2) High costs of inputs that include seeds, fertiliser, pesticides.
3) Stringent international standards and market requirements, which are a barrier to accessing the export market.
4) Post-harvest losses and lack of quality to improve consumer acceptance.
5) Low availability of capital and limited access to affordable credit for horticultural
6) Climate change, mainly unpredictable weather, and presence of pests and diseases. Kenya currently cannot export avocados to South Africa and some European destinations until we demonstrate that we can properly manage the fruit fly and false codling moth. Until we find ways of managing the citrus greening disease in oranges and the woodiness disease in purple passion fruits, the markets for these fruits will remain unexploited.
7) Low adoption of modern farming and processing technologies by Kenyan farmers.
8) Poor infrastructure: Inadequate storage, lack of pack house facilities and refrigerated trucks constrain marketability of horticultural products.
How can these challenges be addressed?
There is need to enhance training on production of fruits and vegetables as well as compliance to market requirements
Further, we need to invest more resources in research for the purpose of developing varieties that are more productive, resistant or less susceptible to pests and diseases.
Are Kenyan farmers exporting more fresh produce abroad?
Domestic consumption of fresh produce is still high and currently stands at about 95 per cent of total production.
However, export market is currently growing and the major markets are in the Euro-zone.
To improve margins, Kenya has focused on diversifying to other non-traditional export markets such as the United Arab Emirates, Middle East, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
The main products to the European Union are French beans, snow peas and sugar snaps, broccoli, herbs, and spices and avocados, among others. Kenya exports vegetables, herbs and spices, avocados and mangoes to the Middle East market.
How are you helping the small farmer to export fresh produce as an organisation?
Small-scale farmers were hit by the European Union’s stringent food safety issues arising from high agrochemical residue levels.
The tough measures, combined with rising cost of production, knocked-out some farmers from growing the vegetables for export, leading to drop in the amount of vegetable exports.
At FPEAK, we link smallholder farmers to our members who buy from them, pack and export to various destinations.
We also advice the farmers on the specific crops that they need to grow for the export market.
Explain how the concept of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) works and how can farmers satisfy what Kenya-GAP requires?
KenyaGAP takes into consideration the internationally accepted practices in growing fresh produce that will result in food that is safe to eat for the consumer, while ensuring conservation of the environment as well as the health and safety of those doing the production.
This focuses on best practices with regard to the use of pesticides and fertiliser, employee welfare and farm management, among others.
We now have a national standard KS 1758 part II on fruits and vegetables that clearly stipulate the compliance criteria that needs to be adhered to by any grower in Kenya for both local and export market.
This standard will be enforced from mid-2018.
What kind of vegetables and fruits would you advise farmers to grow to access the export market?
Vegetables: French beans, snow peas, broccoli, courgettes, carrots, garden peas, salad onions, leeks and cucumber.
Fruits: Avocados, passion fruits, mangoes, pawpaw, oranges, strawberry and apples.
Herbs and spices: Basil, coriander, thyme, parsley, mint and chives.
However, all these products grow under specific agro-ecological zones and farmers should ensure that they grow the crops in their required zones.
The export market is strict on the minimum residue level. Why are the same standards not applied to produce sold locally?
Kenyan markets are not organised and formalised; there’s inadequate resources and manpower provided to support the realisation of food safety standards in the domestic markets.
There is also lack of awareness on food safety and adoption of good farming practices.
Standards need to be enforced to ensure quality is adhered to from the farm to the fork in Kenya and the legislations under which they operate strengthened.
We have to do what it takes to create awareness among the people regarding matters food safety.
If citizens realise the need for safe and quality food, then they would demand the same for the products in the local market.