Monday, January 26, 2009

EU finance a testing centre for horticulture in Kenya

The European Commission (EC) has moved to bolster Kenya’s internal capacity to regulate her budding horticultural sector in a financial arrangement that will see the country get its first world - class testing facility in the next two years.

The Sh350 million [2 million Euros] Horticultural Produce Phyto-sanitary Certification and Quality Assurance (HORTICAP) Project will be implemented by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service’s (Kephis). According to Kephis’ Managing Director Chagema Kedera, “This project will improve Kephis’ physical and technical capacity and facilitate easy access of Kenyan horticultural produce to the EU markets once completed".

Horticap will add to Kephis's infrastructure and install modern laboratory facilities, as well as assist in purchasing of vital equipment and staff training. "The new laboratory inspection facility will be completed in two years [three years since it was conceived in 2007] and subject Kenyan produce to minimal inspection at the port of entry in the European Union markets," said Kedera. "Currently, less than one per cent of our produce is subjected to inspection at EU points of entry, but our main target is 100 per cent inspection locally."

Head of the European Commission Delegation to Kenya, Mr Eric van der Linden, said that the EU has often in the past, been attacked for creating barriers in horticultural products trade. "The pro-activeness of the Kenyan horticulture producers to comply with the EU requirements has created a competitive edge for Kenya in their biggest export market," he said.

Kenyan exports to the EU have in the recent past been threatened by trade agreements, market saturation and the current financial recession. Concern over food safety has also led to stringent requirements for horticulture products imported into the EU market, leading to the formulation of food handling rules by European retailers known as Eurepgap in 1997.

Horticulture exporters are now eyeing the South Korean market in hopes of further diversifying the export market for Kenyan products and gaining a stronger foothold in the Far East. This follows successful expansion in the US and Japan markets and is seen as a way of hedging against negative changes in the main EU market.

The Kenyan flower industry has gone through a significant maturing since 1990. Kenya's export volume has continued to grow from 14,000 tons in 1990 to 39,000 tons in 2000 to 61,000 tons by 2003. In 2006 over 80,000 tons were exported compared to just over 90,000 tons exported in 2007. The value of flower exports rose from about 1billion kshs in 1990, with a value of kshs 23 billion in 2006 to a record kshs 43 billion in 2007. Roses dominate the exports. This places great responsibility on the selection of varieties and trends have tended to changes from sweethearts to intermediaries and adding value through bouquets labeled ready for the supermarkets.

Export of horticultural produce recorded mixed performance in the third quarter of 2008. Exports of cut flowers increased to 19,316 metric tonnes representing a 1.9 per cent growth. Mrs Jane Ngige, CEO, Kenya Flower Council attributes the growth to the business community together and the Government, "who worked hard to ensure that work continued on the flower farms despite the violence".

Agriculture ministry Permanent Secretary, Dr Romano Kiome, welcomed the EU funding saying; "this will go a long way to empower smallholder producers who account for over 80 per cent of fruits and vegetable exports and about four per cent of flower exports."

The horticulture industry in Africa passed an important milestone in its development with the launch in 2008 of a regional body of horticultural associations. On March 30th, representatives from the national associations from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Ethiopia, converged in Nairobi to sign the memorandum bringing into being the Horticultural Council of Africa (HCA).

More infos on EurepGap.