US gives go-ahead for importing of Kenyan beans

The US is to allow Kenya to start exporting French beans into its market, following a 12 year ban and five years of intense lobbying by fresh produce growers for market entry that will now open a new frontier, beyond Europe, for the country's 150000 bean farmers.

The import of Kenyan beans has been banned into the US since the year 2000, making the decision by the US Department of Agriculture (USADA) a landmark ruling for the country's horticultural industry. The USADA said it was now satisfied with Kenya's pre-export conditions, following improvements in washing, packaging and processing of beans.

"We are amending the fruits and vegetables regulations to allow the importation of French beans and runner beans from the Republic of Kenya into the United State," said the US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in a statement.

Stephen Mbithi, the chief executive officer of the Fresh Produce and Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), said the permission followed upgrading of standards along the value chain. "They have inspected our pre-export processing conditions and found them satisfactory," said Dr. Mbithi. The move is expected to increase horticulture farmers’ access to the American market, which presently takes up only 5 per cent of Kenya's horticulture produce, most of it in the form of cut flowers.

French beans accounted for 29 per cent, Sh4 billion, of Kenya's total earnings from vegetable exports of Sh13.7 billion last year. The US opening comes at a time when Kenya's exports are being affected by falling demand in Europe following the debt crisis brought about by the continent's highly indebted countries, such as Greece and Spain.

The US will, however, limit its market scope to protect its own small-scale farmers from price shocks.

US Department of Agriculture data shows that imports of 3,500 tonnes of French beans pull prices down by $12.35 per tonne, leading to a fall in US domestic production of 1,838 tonnes.

The statement said that both French beans and runner beans will have to be produced in accordance with strict hygienic requirements for packing, washing, and processing. The beans will have to be packed in facilities that are approved and registered with the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis). They will also have to be accompanied by a Phytosanitary certificate attesting that the consignment was inspected and found free of quarantine pests. Europe has been taking action against the beans treated with the pesticide dimethoate since a lot of exports have been found to be contaminated with high residue levels.

"Some European supermarkets have been fining us up to Sh1 million due to contaminated exports,"

said Dr. Mbithi, adding that the fresh produce association has therefore been restricting exports from farmers who don't take their beans for inspection.

The use of the chemical to kill pests has been encouraged by its low price and the fact that it has been in use in the country for the past 20 years. But the Ministry of Agriculture has now joined the campaign to educate farmers against the use of the chemical. In humans, repeated or prolonged exposure to pesticides such as dimethoate is claimed to lead to impaired memory and concentration, disorientation, severe depressions, irritability, confusion, headache, speech difficulties, delayed reaction times, nightmares, sleepwalking and drowsiness or insomnia.

In Kenya, French beans are mainly grown in Mwea, Taita, Taveta, Sagana, Matuu, Kirinyaga and other areas around Mount Kenya.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter