Exporters chase lost billions with Swahili guide to standards

Kenya's Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK) has unveiled a Swahili translation of the global quality standards manual to help horticultural farmers understand the standards they must observe, following failures by individual farmers that have triggered a run of outright bans on all Kenyan goods.

Dubbed The Global GAP Swahili, the manual contains all of the world’s harmonised agricultural standards commonly called Global Good Agricultural Practice (Global-GAP).

It is also to be rolled out across the other East African nations to help smallholders with the technical procedures required to sell in export market, for example, explaining to growers how to run their production to safeguard the health of consumers, workers and animals.

With the Kiswahili manuals, more farmers will be able to understand and to adhere to global requirements for safety and hygiene, since training will now be conducted in the language,said Dr Stephen Mbithi, chief executive of FPEAK.

The manual will be given to all those interested in export.

Horticulture remains one of the key export earners for the country, with earnings jumping 18 per cent last year to hit the Sh98bn mark, with 80 per cent of this coming from Europe.

However, according to officials of FPEAK, this revenue could be much higher if more farmers could fully comprehend what is needed of them. “The problem we have at the moment is that the manuals that are given to farmers explaining how they should adhere to the required international standards are very complicated for the farmers. So some will grasp certain aspects, but the majority won't. They end up having their produce rejected because the consumers are very strict with the production process of what they consume,” said Wahinya Ndegwa from FPEAK.

A major impediment to many Kenyan smallholders interested in the export market is the notorious EurepGAP certification. This is is a common standard for farm management practice created in the late 1990s by several European supermarket chains and their major suppliers. The aim was to bring conformity to different retailers' supplier standards. It is now the world's most widely implemented farm certification scheme. Most European customers for agricultural products now demand evidence of EurepGAP certification as a prerequisite for doing business.

Kenyan farmers have seen many of their goods banned on poor production standards. For example, South Africa only recently lifted a 3 year ban on avocado imports from Kenya put in place because they were being infected by the voracious fruit fly. The ban cost Kenyan horticulture farmers more than Sh6bn a year in revenue.

Kenyan fresh produce exports to Europe likewise recently suffered a major blow after numerous consignments were locked out of the EU market citing continuous use of pesticides by Kenyan farmers.

The culprit was Dimethoate, a commonly used pesticides by especially cabbage growers in the country.

The pesticide is mainly used by tomato, cabbage and kale farmers to kill mites and insects.

According to a report by European Commission's Health and Consumer Directorate in 2010 cases of suspected contaminated food had increased from just one in 2009 to four in 2010 triggering the ban.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter