From farm to market: Logistics report calls for efficiency

Tue, Jun 29, 2021

Logistics accounts for approximately 40 to 60 per cent of total costs

With support from the industry, stringent measures will need to be put in place for the fresh produce industry in Kenya to withstand setbacks like the global COVID-19 pandemic. The importance of this industry cannot be gainsaid, seeing as it continues to be a leading foreign exchange earner for the country, as well as being a reliable source of employment for millions of Kenyans.

A study conducted with funding from TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) identifies logistics as the heartbeat of the fresh produce industry. The objective of examining logistics is to improve competitiveness and enhance market access for Kenya’s horticultural produce.

The study examined the role of key actors in export logistics of fresh produce, including the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), the Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya (FPC Kenya), and the Kenya Flower Council (KFC).

Other important players when it comes to export logistics include aviation and maritime authorities, freight forwarders, airlines, and transit shed operators. The Horticultural Crops Directorate and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) also play a critical role.


French beans, which constitute the most exported vegetable from Kenya and are afflicted by a lack of coordination at the farm level, came for special mention and a recommendation that collection centres akin to those used for tea be adopted.

“French beans are mostly grown by small farmers who rely on large exporters to buy the product,” says the report. “The sector should consider development of collection centres for French beans to reduce losses arising from lack of access to markets.”

With findings indicating that all institutions involved in the export of fresh produce collect data separately, the study recommends the adoption of a harmonized system for classifying fresh produce.

It goes on to recommend the development of a National Freight Strategy to enable the country respond to logistics challenges in a coordinated and responsive manner during disruptions, citing the example of Australia.

Additionally, the study recommends that a risk audit be conducted bi-annually to identify and mpa out risks likely to affect the sector; it cites the COVID-19 pandemic as a risk that was not identified in good time.

Other recommendations include implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement; mapping out of all horticultural supply chains; conducting of supply chain surveys; food loss analysis studies to inform interventions to stem post-harvest losses; and the development of a bio-security policy, especially on fumigation protocols.

It also recommends that horticultural associations be involved in decisions on route development by airlines and aviation and aviation authorities.


From subsistence farmers to airline companies, the study says, concerted efforts will ensure that fresh produce moves seamlessly from the farm to the intended destination.

Logistics, according to the report, accounts for approximately 40 to 60 per cent of total costs. It is thus important for logistics costs to be well managed in order to bring about competitiveness.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), lower trade costs contribute to trade growth. For example, a 10 per cent reduction in transportation costs in developing countries would result in 20 per cent growth in international trade.

According to the World Bank, efficient logistics performance goes hand-in-hand with trade expansion, export diversification and economic growth.

COVID-19 struck logistics

When the COVID19 pandemic struck, it hit right at the heart of logistics, meaning that in the entire period that international flights were grounded from March to August 2020, the entire industry of fresh produce for export took a big hit.

The report says that the ban on passenger flights led to reduced airfreight capacity by up to 40 per cent as airfreight in Kenya is dominated by belly capacity.  “According to the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), the ban led to airfreight capacity reduction, from the usual 5,000 tonnes per day to 1,500 tonnes,” added the report.

It took the combined effort of airline players like the Kenya Airports Authority and Kenya Airways to come to the rescue of fresh produce exporters. For example, Kenya Airways converted a number of passenger planes to fly approximately 40 tonnes of fresh fruits and vegetables to Europe.

Significant revenue earner

Over 60 per cent of cargo loaded from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) is fresh produce, making it a significant revenue earner for the airport. As a result, the facility has continued to give preference to this important industry.

“To accommodate the growth in horticultural exports, JKIA has a specialised area dedicated to freight,” says the report.  “The freight area has 14 pack houses with pre-cooling and processing facilities for cut flowers, fruits, and other fresh produce.  The airport has a capacity of approximately 1 million tonnes of cargo annually.”

Fruits make up 34 per cent of fresh produce shipments from Kenya, with avocadoes taking the lion’s share.  The Kenyan avocado recorded 9,990 shipments in 2020, shipping to 57 destinations from 35 in 2017.  Pineapples come in second, followed by mango, passion fruit and raspberries.  The export of lemons, pawpaws, custard and bananas has also been on the increase.

French beans top the list as the most exported vegetable from Kenya. In 2019, 18 million kilos of French beans were shipped to 34 destinations. However, in 2020, the export of French beans declined to 14 million kilos due to the COVID-19 pandemic since there were no flights between March and August.

Cut flowers command the largest share of fresh produce exported from Kenya.  Analysis for the period 2017 to 2020 indicates that the sales of cut flowers have been on an upward trend.  Kenya’s rose flower is the single most exported flower from Kenya, with the highest global footprint at 123 destinations recording 297,541 shipments.

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