Kenya’s horticulture export earnings up, defy pandemic

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By Marion Wagaki, Rootooba, 10 November 2020

Kenya’s horticultural export earnings rose to Sh72 billion between January and May 2020, up from Sh65 billion for the same period last year.

The improved export earnings, thanks to relative production stability in the agricultural sector, translate to an 11% increase as the global space slowly opens up following the disruption caused by COVID-19.

Fresh Produce Consortium Kenya CEO Okisegere Ojepat said the good earnings are largely attributed to the country’s ability to ship out produce during the pandemic, serving a rising demand for food in the traditional export markets.

Ojepat notes that coordination among key stakeholders including the Kenya Airports Authority(KAA) and Kenya Airways had helped exporters with information on developments in the aviation industry and flight space opportunities.

The national carrier offered its passenger planes to be turned into cargo planes to fly to Europe to deliver produce despite making losses as the pandemic hit travel.

Trade Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina, speaking at the Kenya Export Strategy 2020 webinar organized by the Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency,  said the country expected the worst but earnings had improved.

“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,”  said the CS.

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.

Seated produce: Kenya Airways collapsed passenger seats to airlift Kenya horticulture produce to Europe. Photo: Kenya Airways

He said the stakeholders’ sacrifice has not only secured existing markets, but has 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.

Various players in the industry came through despite the difficult situation to ensure Kenya’s presence in the international market.

The Kenya Private Sector Alliance-led Caravan of Hope initiative led by Elgon Kenya Managing Director Bimal Kantaria saw KQ fly flowers donated to hospitals in the UK.

PJ Dave Head of Marketing Trish Patel said their firm saw 80% orders cancelled but they continued shipping a few orders that came 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.

Floriculture General Manager Craig Oulton said their Kisima Farm based in Timau vividly remembers March 15 when President Uhuru Kenyatta declared no entry, no exit from Nairobi, the distribution center for fresh produce exports.

Avocado Society of Kenya CEO Ernest Muthomi said they were largely unknown but within 24 hours during the time of the pandemic, they shot into the limelight when they secured clearance for avocado exports.

“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.

The ‘lockdown’ came as the industry was grappling with cancellation of orders at a critical season for horticultural produce, especially flowers (March-May) covering Mother’s Day, International Women’s Day, UK Mother’s Day and the Easter holidays.

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