Foreign currency inflows from export of vegetables has dropped by 18.7 per cent in the first nine months of the year as the impact of an access ban by the European Union takes its toll.
Fresh data released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that the value of vegetable exports between January and September fell to Sh16.3 billion from Sh20.1 billion in a similar period last year.
The European Union in October last year banned the export of vegetables treated with a pesticide known as Dimethoate that is said to be harmful to humans. The pesticide is popular with Kenyan vegetable producers.
“The (European) market has been extremely strict on pesticides and exporters have to be careful when sourcing from farmers. Farmers are not following instructions and this is forcing us not to buy from many of them, such as in Embu,” said the CEO of Fresh Producers and Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), Stephen Mbithi.
Fresh produce accounts for only five per cent of export volumes but 30 per cent of revenues meaning the medium-term impact could be significant.
Farmers whose produce are being rejected by exporters are being forced to turn to the local market, which is not as rewarding but whose consumption levels of the products has been growing.
The volume of vegetable exports dropped to 54,000 metric tonnes from 59,000 metric tonnes in the same period last year.
French beans, commonly referred to as mishiri, were said to be the most affected by the ban.
In humans, repeated or prolonged exposure to pesticides such as Dimethoate is claimed lead to impaired memory and concentration, disorientation, severe depressions, irritability, confusion, headache, speech difficulties, delayed reaction times, nightmares, sleepwalking and drowsiness or insomnia.
However a 27.8 per cent rise in value of fruit exports helped lift the horticultural sector’s contribution to the country’s forex earnings.
The value of fruit exports rose to Sh3.8 billion in the nine months to September compared to Sh2.99 billion last year. The rise was attributed to increased demand in avocados and improved prices.
“The price of fruits has been growing year-on-year at a rate of 12 per cent,” said Dr Mbithi.
The volume of fruit exports rose to 27,000 metric tonnes from 24,000 metric tonnes. Apart from avocados Kenya also exports pineapples, passion and mango fruits. Flower exports, which also constitute horticultural exports, rose by nine per cent to Sh44 billion from Sh40.4 billion.
Kenya has been challenged to expand its export market beyond Europe, which has been its traditional market with over 80 per cent of its horticultural products being absorbed there.
Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) in a report on green beans farming in Kenya titled: The Beans Value Chain in Kenya, proposes the scouting of other markets with mention of USA and the Asian market.
Some of these markets are yet to put a ban on Dimethoate-sprayed products. SNV says the local market is usually the dumping ground for export rejects.
The Netherlands-based group also says farmers are organised in groups which contractually bind them to sell to specific exporters.
Dr Mbithi however said the reliance on Europe was as a result of its proximity compared to other markets, its size and better prices.
“It is not that there are no other markets but it is the reality of price. For us to take to those further markets we must get a better prices than in Europe,” he said.