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Transport problems slashing Kenyan fresh exports, despite demand in Europe

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By Lydia Gichuki

Kenya is exporting just 30 per cent of its normal level of fresh produce exports during the Coronavirus pandemic, far below current European demand, as the difficulties in getting produce to the airport, the lack of available air cargo space, and the tripling in air cargo prices, combine to prevent the dispatch of goods for sale.

Speaking to, Mr Hosea Machuki, CEO of the Fresh Produce and Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK) said Kenya was now exporting around 1,500 tonnes a week of produce, compared with an average of 5,000 tonnes a week prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t have the capacity to export our produce, as JKIA [airport] is no longer operational and passenger flights that were carrying around 40 per cent of our products are parked, while most cargo flights have shifted to carrying medicine and electronics as they are more lucrative, leaving us with very little capacity to move our produce,” said Machuki.

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As a result, Kenya is missing out on around 2,000 tonnes a week of sales, with European demand currently running at around 3,500 tonnes a week, while Kenya’s fresh produce exporters are struggling to transport just 1,500 tonnes a week. 

In this, many sales are dropping from the Kenyan side because exporters simply cannot get their produce to Nairobi JKIA or to Mombasa Port for export.

“Although food trucks are allowed to travel past curfew time to and from Nairobi and Mombasa, there are so many roadblocks before they arrive at their destination, which can result in spoilage of the goods. Moreover, with the curfew, all the night shifts for employees have also been cancelled, meaning packing and loading cargo is taking twice as long,” said Machuki.

Truck drivers returning after offloading cargo are also facing a hard time at roadblocks, he said, but FPEAK is engaging with the relevant government authorities to try and avert this problem.

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Joseph Mwanga, technical manager at Kandia Fresh Produce Suppliers Limited, also reports that transport problems in Kenya are preventing most sales. Despite Europe loosening its strict rules on fresh produce imports to increase the volume of incoming goods as European agriculture is hit by the pandemic, Kandia has been unable to fill the market, now exporting just 500kg a week, compared with 40 tonnes a week before the pandemic, because of the difficulties in getting produce from farms due to the curfew and Nairobi’s lockdown.

A further barrier for those who can get their products to the international cargo points has been surging cargo prices.

Air cargo prices for fresh produce have increased to Sh300 to Sh400 per kilogram, compared with Sh150 to Sh180 per kilogram pre-Covid19, which has moved the exporting of many fresh products into losses, with the final sales price no longer covering the cargo costs.

Photo1: A truck transporting farm produce

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