Transport

Farmers eye direct Eldoret Airport, EU flower exports

airline

Workers at Canken International, at the Eldoret International Airport, pack a consignment of avocados for export by Egypt Air Cargo destined for Dubai. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

Eldoret International Airport has resumed direct exports to the European market of cut flowers from the North Rift region as it seeks to turn around the fortunes of the local farmers and boost regional economy.

The facility has partnered with Ethiopian Airlines to export the fresh produce to European markets such as Belgium and Netherlands.

“For many years, farmers have been transporting their produce by the road which means extra costs. But now this is a game-changer in the horticultural sector as it will significantly lower costs,” said Walter Agong’, the airport’s manager.

“Farmers are excited about this new milestone and we are targeting to increase volumes from current five tonnes per week to 15 to over 20 tonnes starting this week, that is five tonnes in each of the three flights in a week.”

On November 30, the facility launched its inaugural exports of the first batch of five tonnes of cut flowers through the international airport. In the last two weeks, the facility has exported over 10 tonnes of the produce.

Data from the airport shows that at its peak, in 2006, 956 tonnes of agricultural produce were exported via the facility. But since 2009, the airport has largely been used for passenger movement and import of goods such as electronics and textile for local and regional markets.

Flower farms and other fresh produce in the North Rift region of Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia counties have been transporting their produce by road to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for export.

Charles Mwita, the head of marketing at the Eldoret International Airport, said that with the direct exports of the produce, it will help cut costs and maintain the quality of the produce.

“We are keen to start exports of other agricultural produce like avocado . . . currently we have limited space for the exports by the airline but they have promised us that from next year January we will get more space to export local agricultural produce,” he said.

Kenya Airports Authority in an earlier statement said they are targeting to increase the volumes to boost the trade in the country’s traditional food basket.

“The airport, while working closely with flower and horticultural farmers in the region, aims to be exporting at least 35 tonnes per load by March next year,” says KAA.

For close to a decade, the international airport has been involved in handling imports and passenger flights owing to low volumes of agricultural produce for export.

The facility has two cargo handlers - Canken International Limited and Siginon freight handlers with cold rooms. But for many years these cargo handlers have remained idle due to limited products for export in the past. The situation, however, is set to change with the new exports.

Canken has 110 tonnes storage capacity for dry or imported goods and 230-tonne capacity to handle fresh produce while Siginon has 40-tonne capacity largely underutilised cold rooms and another 200 tonnes for dry cargo.

In the recent past, counties under the North Rift Economic bloc (Noreb) and other stakeholders have been championing for diversification into horticultural crops away from the traditional maize and wheat crops in a bid to generate additional revenue and boost the local economy.

Although at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions disrupted passenger movement or flights, the international airport has since bounced back, registering over 90 per cent of the passenger flights, according to the latest data.

Some of the cargo airlines that bring goods to the airport include Fly Emirates and Ethiopian Airlines. Astral Aviation, a local cargo airliner is another that launched its flights in March this year ferrying goods from the Middle East.

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