Horticulture exporters are seeking new markets in nine countries as the sector aims to reduce its reliance on the European market and raise earnings.
Through the National Horticulture Taskforce, exporters are targeting the China, Australia, US, Russia, Canada, UAE, Japan, Malaysia, and Turkey markets.
The task force said it will also seek to increase the use of sea freight to supplement air freight amid logistical challenges and high rates charged by air cargo operators.
“We are looking at diversifying because we believe as much as we need to maintain the European market we need to open up new markets,” said Clement Tulezi, CEO of the Kenya Flower Council (KFC) and chairman of the task force.
“We have aligned our plans and identified nine countries where we need to engage and push our export volumes to diversify away from Europe. We are not saying we are leaving Europe. It remains our major market. We want to maintain it and also make inroads into other markets.”
The task force includes producers of cut flowers, fruits and vegetables and herbs and spices, trade and agriculture ministries.
Horticulture is the third-largest foreign exchange earner after remittance flows and tourism, with the sector selling 70 percent of its produce to Europe, then re-exported to other countries.
The sector however faces challenges in complying with export market regulations, pests control, and logistics.
The task force is pushing for bilateral ties with some of those countries to clear trade barriers on pests and phytosanitary issues and border controls.
Direct export into the new markets is expected to increase export volumes and spur local production capacity.
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.
Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicate that earnings from fresh produce grew seven percent from Sh150 billion that it recorded a year earlier.
Mr Tulezi, however, expressed fears that the earnings momentum could slow down amidst the challenges.
“We have challenges that we need to surmount so that we continue growing at the same rate,” he said.
“If we don't, then we will slow down at some point. Our understanding is we will have good support from the government because we inject more into the Kenyan economy.”