‘‘We’ve helped boost horticultural exports” – Horticulture Q&A with Ahmed Farah

Mon, Aug 30, 2021

Ahmed Farah, Country Director of TradeMark East Africa, spoke to Horticulture News on the organisation’s interventions in the horticultural sector

  1. What prompted TMEA to get involved in supporting the horticultural sector, specifically? Why horticulture?

The Kenya agriculture sector contributes 25 per cent of Kenya’s GDP, of which horticulture provides 36 per cent of the agricultural sector contribution related to GDP. The horticulture industry has been growing at an annual average rate of 15 per cent over the past decade. Among the existing agricultural enterprises, horticulture offers the best alternative for increased food self-sufficiency, food security, improved nutrition, foreign exchange earnings and increased incomes and employment.

The project aims to improve smallholder horticulture business competitiveness through improved production processes, compliance to market requirements and increased access to export markets for certified farmer groups. The project further aims to improve pack house quality management systems and certifications.

  1. How would you assess the impact of your intervention in Kenya’s horticultural sector? To what extent have you been successful? What parameters do you use to assess this success?

The project has contributed to addressing market constraints in the sector in order to boost market share of exports in existing markets and facilitate access to emerging markets like China, Turkey, UAE, USA and other African markets. Existing TMEA interventions in the sector focused on standards and SPS provide the necessary foundation of our work, with new interventions providing market-entry support in partnership with the apex institutions and export promotion agencies.

The ongoing training, certification and advocacy engagements have addressed bottlenecks on standards and problems along the value chain that affect access to markets for produce. The interventions under this project also cushioned farmers affected by the Covid 19 challenges.

  1. What measures have you put in place to ensure the sustainability of the initiatives you have started once your involvement in this vital sector comes to an end?

The project has a partnership approach at its core in order to achieve anticipated results. Over the duration of its work, TMEA programming has delivered strong results in Kenya based on the strong partnerships established with stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. Strong competencies have been developed in our core areas of programming and networks established that enable us to leverage the work done by others in order to deliver holistic interventions and guarantee sustainability.

  1. What have been the critical lessons regarding the revival of important sectors of the economy during times of crisis, such as in the present COVID-19 environment?

TMEA initiated projects to support the horticulture industry in Kenya respond to COVID-19 through advocacy work for improved freight logistics; development of a communication strategy; and engagement of stakeholders to enhance the image of Kenya’s produce and support smallholder export companies to sustain production and export.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has amplified the need for utilising technology where possible to push forward some key project activities. For example, the National Horticulture Information System, once operationalised, will be very critical to ensure that information is disseminated easily to stakeholders in the horticulture industry.

  1. You recently commissioned and received a report on fresh produce logistics. Was this report shared with the industry and what was the reception? To what extent has its recommendations been implemented?

The study was commissioned and validated jointly by TMEA and the industry stakeholders including FPEAK, FPC and KFC. As such, insights drawn from the key industry players identified logistics as the heartbeat of the fresh produce industry and emphasised on the need to ensure that the competitiveness of the sector is improved to enhance market access for Kenya’s horticultural produce.

As the study was recently commissioned, TMEA is working closely with the industry stakeholders to ensure that a concerted effort is put forward to implement the recommendations highlighted. Additionally, for some recommendations, TMEA will work with both the government and private sector stakeholders to address them. For example, one area the study identifies is the delayed implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, especially with regard to automation of cross-border processes. This is an area that TMEA has established a comparative advantage and we will continue investing in automation projects such as the Trade Logistics Information Pipeline — TLIP — that will revolutionise the logistics and horticulture industry in Kenya and the region.

  1. What do you see as the key areas in horticulture that still require your support and engagement going forward?

Gaps still exist in terms of strengthening, logistics, food safety and communication for the sector. These are areas that the associations and other partners will need to develop a strategy on. Access to financing for smallholder farmers remains a challenge.

  1. With the current Kenya Horticulture Market Access Programme (2020-22) COVID-19 Response coming to an end next year, do you have additional programmes lined up for the future and what is the scope and scale of these?

The project will be evaluated and an ideal plan developed based on the outcome of the evaluation.

  1. What challenges have you faced in your engagement with the horticultural sector? How do you propose to address these challenges?

Access to financing for smallholder farmers — the COVID-19 period has affected farmers’ access to much-needed financial resources to grow their businesses. Funding for the sector has been diminishing. There is a need to seek ways of access to finance for farmers — either through advocacy for cushions by government or lobbying for other support from key stakeholders.

  1. Some of the challenges facing horticulture emanate from a hostile business environment. What has TMEA done to bring together policymakers, legislators and other stakeholders to address such macroeconomic and legislative challenges?

Through the TMEA-supported regional PPD programme, the East African Business Council (EABC) managed to tackle one challenge on transport and logistics that benefitted horticulture. The interventions to stop the spread of the COVID-19 created hurdles in the movement of cargo, service suppliers and people across EAC borders. Disruptions in transport and logistics caused a halt in the movement of people and goods leading to Kenya Airways, RwandAir, Air Tanzania and Uganda Airlines suspending passenger flights. In Kenya, for example, by April 2020 the volume of fresh produce out of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) had reduced from a weekly 5,000 tonnes to 1,300 tonnes, a 75 per cent decline, with similar trends reported across the region. EABC developed a regional private sector position paper on Open Skies for cargo movement amid the COVID-19 outbreak, which was submitted to the EAC Council of Ministers for adoption. The paper was based on an EABC study on costs and benefits of “Open Skies” in the East African Community, which established that the liberalisation of EAC air transport services will lead to increased frequencies, routes, connectivity, choices and lower fares, which in turn will result in more traffic volumes, additional jobs, and increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

EABC brought stakeholders together by holding a webinar with CEOs of regional airlines in preparation for the resumption of air travel across the region. Through the above recommendation, an Open Skies Policy, and the extension of freedoms has started being extended for airlines to pick cargo from various partner states to be exported to international markets. For example,  Rwandair started transporting fish from Tanzania to Europe, and Emirates Airlines is picking cargo from inland Kenya destined for various markets. Regional Airlines resumed operations and EABC members were able to export their products again, hence increasing export revenues.

  1. Please provide information on any other key areas to do with TMEA’s contribution to horticulture.

Facilitating export growth is a crosscutting theme across TMEA areas of programming, with different interventions directly or indirectly contributing to increased exports in the region through a reduction of trade barriers or a focus on improving business competitiveness. For example, we continue to facilitate projects that enhance market access for fresh produce through certification, which includes training of producers to acquire Global Gap Certification and adopt export requirements. Developments in transport and logistics, facilitating implementation of conducive trade policies, simplification of export processes through automation, access to efficient quality infrastructure, and private sector-led policy reforms, will play a key role in reducing competitiveness-related constraints while complementing planned export capability interventions focused on facilitating market access and greater export development.

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