The Kenyan Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) “has started gathering data on chemical residues on fresh produce in a bid to ease farmers’ access to the crucial European Union market”. KEPHIS hopes that the gathering of accurate data will help to counter claims that horticultural exports from Kenyan have “high chemical residue levels” and lead to fewer inspections than at present. Intensified inspections have been both increasing the costs and reducing the commercial value of horticultural exports.
According to the managing director of KEPHIS, the problems with Kenyan horticultural exports to the EU in 2013 “arose as a result of EU drastically changing its regulations and reducing acceptable limits” of designated pesticide residues. He maintained that this move caught many in the Kenyan horticulture sector by surprise, and added that manufacturers of pesticides “were reluctant to conduct tests and give the information to farmers and regulators because the costs involved would make the chemicals more expensive”.
The EU remains Kenya’s main market for fresh produce exports, accounting for 23% in 2012. Despite the problems experienced with EU controls, “exports of fresh horticultural products increased by 18.5 percent… to 293,631 tonnes in the year to September 2013” (up from 247,847 tonnes the previous year), according to the Central Bank of Kenya.
Meanwhile, a training programme has been launched with EC support to improve pesticide use in Kenya. The “training of trainers” programme aims to enhance farmers’ compliance with EU pesticide regulations.
The Kenya Horticulture Competiveness Project noted in its September 2013 newsletter that fresh vegetable exports decreased between May and July 2013 “by 1.9 percent in value and 15.8 percent in volume compared to a similar period in 2012”, and attributed this “to the decrease in export volumes of fresh beans, which form the bulk of vegetables export to the European Union”. This followed the application of “more stringent food safety standard requirements over high agrochemical residues, thus reducing the quantity traded” into the EU market.
Despite this report, and Kenya’s focus on the high-value EU market, the Kenyan horticultural sector is exporting an increasingly diverse range of products to a growing number of markets. The conclusion in the Central Bank of Kenya report regarding the expansion in the volume of horticultural exports relates to exports to all destinations, not just those to the EU.
Kenya has benefited from other opportunities both regionally and overseas – it is reported that the export “volume and value for juice mixtures increased considerably” (+21% and +5.9% respectively), notably to South Sudan and Uganda. Overall, exports of processed fruit increased by 19.3% in volume terms and by 24.8% in value terms. Exports of pulses to India also reportedly increased.
This provides the wider context in which the EU’s increasingly strict application of food safety standards needs to be seen. While the EU remains a vitally important market for certain high-value horticultural exports, alternative or additional market opportunities are opening up that could increasingly impact on producers’ cropping patterns, in the face of the more rigorous application of EU controls.