Horticultural exports are set to grow significantly as local fresh producers benefit from adopting global standards in their production and marketing processes, giving their products easier access to international markets.
Under a Sh5 billion ($65 million) project grant signed with TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) in Nairobi last week, Kenya will lead other horticultural producers in East Africa to develop and implement a regional version of the Global Good Agricultural Practice standards.
The regional quality benchmark called the East Africa Good Agricultural Practice standards (EAGAP) will come up with uniform quality management, production techniques, and regulatory services for the region.
Players said the project will open up a bigger chunk of regional and international markets to produce of the small scale farmers in the region who are currently locked out of lucrative markets by stringent quality standards.
“This project will improve the incomes and livelihoods of small scale horticulture farmers in East Africa due to enhanced international market access,” said Dr Stephen Mbithi, the chief executive officer of the Fresh Produce Association of Kenya (FPEAK)
The EAGAP is a modification of the Global Good Agricultural Practice standards (GLOBALGAP) to suit value chain structures, available capacities and resources, agronomic cultures and ecological conditions of local small holder farmers.
Jose Maciel, TMEA’s regional trade and integration director said the regional quality benchmark will be translated into Kiswahili to promote adoption by small scale farmers of the region.
“A robust rollout of trainings and certification will finally be undertaken across the region certifying a pilot number of grower groups thus creating environment for up-scaling it in a future phase.” said Mr Maciel.
For Kenya growers, this campaign to raise quality standards of the region’s horticultural sector comes as a timely move that will bolster the industry’s standing as the country’s key foreign exchange earner.
In spite of the economic turbulence that hit its key markets in the Europe – ranging from slow recovery from global financial crisis and the Icelandic volcanic eruption that cut off links with markets – horticulture still emerged as the second highest source of foreign exchange in 2010.
Fresh produce exporters brought in Sh76 billion, beating tourism, which recorded annual earning of Sh78 billion but lagged behind tea which topped the season’s export earnings with Sh97 billion.
The effort to improve standards is expected to raise this figure phenomenally as exports currently account for only 5 per cent of the sector’s annual sales. The remaining 95 per cent of the production – mostly from smallholder farmers – is usually sold within the country as they fail to meet international quality thresholds.
Across the East African region, a total of 10 million farmers who are directly engaged in producing horticultural crops are set to benefit from the EAGAP. This will significantly raise their participation in international trade and eventually lift incomes in rural areas where farmers have land holdings averaging one hectare.
Dr Mbithi said adopting uniform standards in production and packaging will increase inter-regional trade in fresh produce, making it a key growth sector for all the five EAC members.
The campaign comes as European buyers – market for 80 per cent of Kenya’s fresh produce – demand audit systems that trace the origins of agricultural produce from planting to the time the harvest gets to the market.
Industry statistics indicate that about 40 per cent of fresh produce harvested annually is lost due to post harvest spoilage.
“These threats to trade can only be mitigated by a universal application of globally recognised standards by the regions producers.” said Dr Mbithi.
The project aims to train farmers in resource management, crop protection, post harvest handling and marketing. Twenty trainers and at least 3 qualified inspectors per country will implement the program among 10 certified Growers groups in the region.