Regulator orders fresh audit on vegetable farms

A farmer tends passion fruits.  A new crackdown on fresh produce handlers has started as the government moves to  allay fears over produce safety.   FILE
A farmer tends passion fruits. A new crackdown on fresh produce handlers has started as the government moves to allay fears over produce safety. FILE 

A new crackdown on fresh produce handlers has started as the government moves to safeguard the lucrative European export market where health-conscious consumers are increasingly jittery over safety along the value chain.

Industry regulator—the Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA)— has moved to curb poaching of fresh produce with new stringent terms for licensing fresh produce exporters in a move aimed at establishing a clear link between farms and market.

The Authority has directed exporters of fruits and vegetables to update their licences with list of contracted farmers, size and location of their farms, and their production standards within the next three months.

“No (HCDA) licence will be issued to any companies that fail to submit this data,” Alfred Serem, HCDA managing director said Wednesday in a newspaper advertisement.

The move signals a fresh attempt by HCDA — alongside Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) and Fresh Produce Exporters Association (FPEAK) to exert control on the sector’s value chain as demanded by EU authorities.

Middlemen have been flouting these quality control guidelines by collecting produce from multiple farms for sale to any company with export licence.

Under the new rules, exporters are required to lock in their brokers and agents by registering them to ensure no single dealer can supply produce tO more than one exporter.

“These measures have become necessary to address standards compliance and traceability, and also address the issue of poaching,” said Dr Serem.

Treatability guideline ensures that regulatory authorities—both in Kenya and Europe —can follow the movement of every produce from farm to the consumer’s hand, ensuring that quality guidelines are maintained all through.

Fruits and vegetables are important foreign exchange earners for Kenya, bringing in Sh2 billion and Sh13.7 billion respectively in 2010. Data from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics indicates that the country’s earnings from fruits and vegetables had hit Sh3.4 billion and Sh24.4 billion respectively by November last year. The export statistics indicate that EU has remained the single largest destination for Kenya’s fruits and vegetables.

On Wednesday, industry players said the move by HCDA will bring discipline and restore confidence in Kenya’s fruits and vegetables. “Poaching of produce has been a very big issue.” Said Dr Stephen Mbithi, FPEAK’s CEO. “It is the industry which asked HCDA to tackle the menace with finality so that we can deal with it once and for all.”

The move to seize control of value chain activities comes just days after the ministry of agriculture banned the use of dimethoate in manufacturing pesticides in Kenya, a chemical that is highly regulated in EU countries.

The ministry cited last year’s rejection of Kenya’s French beans, mongetouts and passion fruits by EU authorities on the ground that the produce exceeded the 0.02 parts per million (ppm) limit of Dimethoate. Studies have linked excessive use of the chemical to cancer.

“Dimethoate is very effective, cheap and can be used in many crops for different pests but we have to implement a voluntary ban,” Gladys Maina, CEO of the Pests and Poisons Control Board (PCPB) said last week.

A year ago, Kenya banned the use of methyl bromide in soil fumigation, falling running ahead of the global calendar of having the chemical completely banned by 2015.