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Kenya faults South Africa on avocado export ban

Tuesday March 10 2015

Kenya has been pushing for its avocadoes to be exported to South Africa for more than a year but the efforts have not borne fruit. PHOTO | FILE

Kenya has been pushing for its avocadoes to be exported to South Africa for more than a year but the efforts have not borne fruit. PHOTO | FILE 

MWANIKI WAHOME
By MWANIKI WAHOME
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A trade dispute is brewing between Kenya and South Africa over failure to lift a ban on export of local avocadoes imposed in 2010.

The market restriction was imposed by South Africa after local produce was found to be invested with fruit fly.

However, Kenya says that South Africa has declined to reopen the market yet the country has implemented a pest management plan agreed between the two nations.

“They have kept moving the goal posts. We have written to them over the matter but they have not been replying to our letters. We are going to take up the matter to know why they have declined to respond to us,” said Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis) managing director Esther Kimani.

Closure of the South African market dealt a body blow to Kenyan farmers. Avocado exports to South Africa were earning local farmers Sh120 million every year on average.  Experts say although the South African market is relatively small for the Kenyan avocado industry, the ban has the potential to shake the confidence of international market on local produce. After South Africa shut its market, Mauritius followed suit.

INFESTED FRUIT

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Concerns over fruit fly emerged  in 2003, and industry insiders say the pest is thought to have originated from Sri Lanka.

Apart from avocadoes, fruit fly attacks mangoes, guavas, citrus, papayas, tomatoes, bananas, cashew nuts, pepper, pears, melons and other tropical fruits.

Kenya has been pushing for its avocadoes to be exported to South Africa for more than a year but the efforts have not borne fruit. “We want South Africa to tell us what else remains for our avocadoes to be allowed in its market again,” she said.

Trade between the two countries is in favour of South Africa, which has a more developed industry and a diversified economy than Kenya.

According to the 2014 Economic Survey, Kenya’s exports to South Africa was about Sh3.277 billion in 2013 compared to imports in the same year valued at Sh70.7 billion, the largest source of goods for Nairobi from an African country.

According to the survey, imports from South Africa grew massively from Sh61.9 billion in 2012 and in 2013, about half of the value of imports from African countries that stood at Sh147.8 billion.

However, with a new online system — Plant Import and Quarantine Regulatory System — launched last week, Ms Kimani said that screening of imported seeds and grains would assist the country in averting trade disputes such as the one gripping the avocado trade at the moment.

Products that have pests and other harmful insects would be detected and prevented from getting into Kenya, she said.

The system would ensure that all importers of plant materials obtain a permit from the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services. The dealers would download regulation guidelines and communicate promptly with the plant inspectorate when importing such materials.

PLANT HEALTH RISKS

Kenya’s horticulture industry contributes over Sh100 billion every year to the economy.

Agriculture Cabinet secretary, Mr Felix Koskei, has said the industry should be guarded from threats such as pests and unintended genetic interference from imports.

“Importation of plants and plant products into the country poses huge plant health risks, which if not properly regulated could have far-reaching economic and food security implications,” Mr Koskei said.

“Over the years, where import regulations have failed, economies have suffered crop losses, huge cost incurred in attempts to contain pest outbreaks or inclusions.”

He cited the entry of large grain borer commonly referred to as Osama into the country. The pest had over the years been causing huge losses of maize in storage stores before it was contained.

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