KEPHIS: Protecting the integrity of fresh produce

Mon, Aug 30, 2021

Pests have posed a particularly serious problem to the horticultural sector in recent years, with climate change making it even more difficult to control pests

The transboundary transfer of pests through international trade and travel, propagation of diseased plants, and climate change have placed an increasing burden on the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), which is charged with keeping the country safe from invasive pests and diseases.

This has become an important area of international trade in horticultural products, with the European Union becoming particularly strict and raising its level of inspections and consequently interceptions of consignments. This has tainted Kenya’s image, resulted in losses, and endangered the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and workers. The measures by the EU are in addition to strict maximum residue levels that must be observed.

Export certification of fresh produce

“To satisfy the requirements of such key international markets and minimize losses to farmers and exporters, KEPHIS carries out export certification to ensure all fresh produce meets international market requirements,” said Hellen Mwarey, the Technical Personal Assistant to the government agency’s managing director. “To achieve this, it undertakes field inspections and audits; inspections at points of exit; issuance of phytosanitary certificates; and pest surveillance to establish pest status.”

From its headquarters in Nairobi, KEPHIS overseas the operations of its regional offices in Mombasa, Nakuru , Kitale, Embu, and Kisumu. It also maintains operations at various official points of entry and exit throughout Kenya — including border posts, airports and seaports.

According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), members have the right to take sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures necessary for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with the provisions of the agreement.

According to WTO, sanitary and phytosanitary measures constitute any measure applied to protect animal or plant life or health within the territory of a member from risks arising from the entry, establishment or spread of pests, diseases, disease-carrying organisms or disease-causing organisms.

Pests and diseases

Apart from overseeing the implementation of SPS measures, KEPHIS is also responsible for seed certification, plant variety protection, and analytical services.  To fulfil its mandate, the organisation runs seven fully functional and equipped laboratories.

Pests have posed a particularly serious problem to the horticultural sector in recent years. Fruit flies, for example, were introduced into the country in 2003 and have led to a loss of the market for mangoes in the EU, as well as for the market for avocados in South Africa, and bananas and other fruits in the US.

Other pests have included the papaya mealybug, a new species that affects pawpaws, as well as armyworms, which affected 25 counties in 2017. There is also the False Codling Moth, which affects roses and chillies and has led to the rejection of whole consignments of produce by export markets.

Seed certification ensures farmers get the most suitable and superior varieties for maximum productivity. It involves the registration of seed merchants and growers, field inspection, seed testing and labelling, and post control and post certification.


KEPHIS also handles plant variety protection, which involves rigorous testing of new varieties for their value for cultivation and use to ensure only superior varieties are released to farmers.

Climate change has made it more difficult to control pests, since it makes pests and diseases thrive in previously unconducive environments.

To mitigate the dangers posed by pests and diseases, Kenya is in the process of reviewing the relevant legislation to strengthen it, especially the Plant Protection Act. There are also measures to strengthening border operations, as well as to strengthen early warning systems through training of staff and strengthening collaboration with counties. This is in addition to the adoption of the latest technologies in laboratory diagnostics.

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