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EU double-edged sword for Kenya’s horticulture


A worker at a flower firm in Naivasha. FILE PHOTO | NMG

In the last couple of years, Kenya’s exports of major crops have come under threat over increased cases of chemical residues on horticulture produce that has seen Europe impose stricter checks, posing a threat to the country’s foreign earnings.

For instance, Europe has cut the level of detection for maximum residue level (MRLs) on Kenya’s produce, exposing the country to stricter checks that have increased the level of interceptions.

The European Union (EU) has lowered the requirements on residues to a bare minimum, meaning that any level found on the consignment whether high or low will be treated in the same way.

An increase in the number of exports intercepted not only subjects exporters to losses but also places the country at risk of being banned from shipping its produce to the EU until a corrective measure is taken.

Crops agency Kenya Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) has already raised concerns over the level of MRLs and wants the relevant bodies to create more awareness among farmers.

“All the relevant bodies must come together to address the challenge of residues as increased checks on our export produce pose a risk of more products being intercepted and is risky for our exports,” said Kephis managing director Theophilus Mutui.

He said farmers need to be trained on handling of export crops, usage of the right chemicals and the duration that it should take before the produce is harvested after spraying.

Whereas the focus has been on horticulture, just last month, Japan raised the red flag on Kenya’s coffee owing to high levels of chemical residue.

The Japanese authority said samples taken out of Kenyan coffee were found to have Chlorpyrifos- an active ingredient found in insecticides used in spraying the cash crop.

Authorities said they detected 0.06 parts per million in the coffee that was sampled, which was above the stipulated minimum of 0.05 per cent.

Japan is currently Kenya’s sixth largest importer of coffee having earned the country Sh1.5 billion in foreign exchange last year.

And in the latest development, Europe has announced that it will start checking flowers for high levels of chemicals, marking the first time in Kenya’s horticulture industry that roses have been subjected to such scrutiny.

Trials on flowers are ongoing at the moment but they will be implemented next year. The move poses a major risk, should they be found to have high chemical residues given that flowers are the leading segment in terms of income on horticulture earnings.

Flowers alone raked in Sh37 billion in six months to June this year out of the Sh48 billion that the horticulture sector realised in the review period.

“It is feared that these residues on flowers could have an impact on the households because of the exceedance of chemical residues,” said Ojepat Okisegere, chief executive officer of the Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya.

Companies making organic chemicals now want the government to adopt these pesticides to save Kenya’s horticulture industry from sanctions.

Kapi Limited, a Nakuru-based firm, which uses locally based pyrethrum in making chemicals, is already supplying some farms that export vegetables and flowers with their formulations.

“All our export customers are aware of the residue challenges they face and our chemical has helped them to meet the minimum residue level requirements,” said Ian Shaw managing director of Kapi.

“Coffee farmers use chlorpyrifos to control green scale. We offer a natural alternative that is as effective at controlling green scale and leaves zero residues. The other big pest in coffee is thrips, which we are also able to assist with two excellent products,” he said.

Earnings from horticulture exports hit a historic high last year at Sh158 billion to remain the leading foreign exchange earner in the last two years by staying ahead of tea and tourism.

The good results were boosted by the high demand for Kenyan produce in the world market last year, according to the Directorate of Horticulture.

The European Union still takes the largest portion of Kenyan horticultural exports, buying 45 per cent of the commodities mainly comprising cut flowers, French beans, snow peas, and Asian vegetables.

Agriculture and Food Authority -the crops regulator is working at diversifying the market as it seeks to cut reliance on the European market which it says could hurt Kenya’s produce if the market becomes volatile.

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