Flower exporters eye sea freight as air costs shoot up

Workers at Equator Flowers Farm in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County pack flowers for export. FILE PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

The high cost of shipping horticultural produce by air is now pushing traders to adopt sea freight which is relatively cheaper.

Freighters from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) are charging $5.8 for a kilo of cargo, forcing exporters to seek other alternative means.

The charges, argues chief executive officer of Kenya Flower Council Clement Tulezi, have made produce from countries like Ethiopia sell at competitive prices in the world market because of lower freight rates.

For instance, Ethiopia is charging $2.5 for a kilo of produce shipped to the world market, making goods ferried by the carrier cheaper in the world market. The sea freight is projected to lower the cost to at least $2.8 a kilo.

On Monday, the Kenya Flower Council (KFC) and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands signed a framework of cooperation that is set to accelerate the shift to sea freight for perishables in Kenya.

Netherlands ambassador Maarten Brouwer and the chairman of the Kenya Flower Council board Richard Fernandes signed the framework during the opening of the International Floriculture Trade Exhibition (IFTEX) at Oshwal Center in Nairobi.

To realise this objective, a full-time position of an agro-logistics coordinator, to be domiciled at the KFC offices, has been developed to work on the initiative.

This cooperation was strengthened during the April 2022 visit to Kenya by Dutch Minister for International Trade and Development Cooperation Liesje Schreinemacher.

Together with Cabinet Secretary of Transport James Macharia, they signed a Letter of Intent on the shared ambition to improve the connection of ports through a 'Cool Logistics Corridor'.

Earlier, The Netherlands commissioned a study to gain insights into the challenges and opportunities of sea freight developments in Kenya and the impact on its agro-sector.

“It is however important to incorporate the supply chain requirements of perishable goods in new infrastructures. For instance, Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), ports, container depots as well as realising efficient customs clearance procedures of perishable goods leaving Kenya,” said the Flower Council.

The flowers will be transported via refrigerated railway containers to the Port of Mombasa for onward export to Europe.

"Transportation of fresh produce by rail is also better for the environment due to lower carbon emissions as compared to road or air transport," said Mr Tulezi.

Most of Kenya's flowers are exported through airfreight, which is a quicker mode of transport. However, the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the limitations on the use of air freight as many flights were cancelled leading to a drastic reduction in air cargo capacity.

KFC said on Monday that small-scale flower farms are throwing away 20 percent of their daily produce meant for export because of a shortfall in capacity as big players lock them out through advance bookings on airlines.

According to KFC, freight capacity at the airport remains low as the normal flight operations are yet to resume after interruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

The lobby said the export market is currently constrained in terms of capacity with available freight space of 3,500 tonnes against the required 5,000 tonnes a week.

Europe accounts for nearly 70 percent of Kenya’s cut flower exports and the limited cargo capacity makes it difficult for Kenya to serve this market, threatening thousands of jobs.

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