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Plants expert calls for compliance of food safety standards

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By James Onsando

Horticulture is among the leading contributors to Kenya’s agricultural GDP at 36 per cent. The sector is growing at between 15 and 20 per cent per year, employing over six million Kenyans directly and indirectly. Stringent standards set by importers abroad hurting sectorStringent standards set by importers abroad hurting sector

Of the total horticultural production, about 95 per cent is consumed or utilized locally, while the remaining 5 per cent is exported.

Yet, in terms of incomes, the export segment earns country huge amounts of foreign exchange-approximately sh90 billion every year.

Kenya’s horticultural produce is among the best in the world. The countries French beans, baby spinach, and baby carrot, to name a few, are enjoyed around the world, particularly in our key markets such as the EU, the US and the Far East.

His is due to favorable climatic conditions and good soils, which enable the crops to grow all-year round. Kenya is a respected and well-known supplier of horticultural produce a fact that has seen trade volumes increase over the years.

In the recent past, however, beans and peas in ponds have faced increased scrutiny and checks at the EU entry points. Currently, 10 per cent of the exported French beans and snow peas has to undergo mandatory testing for compliance with the EU Pesticide Maximum Residue Limits.

Although under increased scrutiny, 90 per cent of our produce still enters the market without the testing. Of the 10 per cent that undergoes mandatory testing, about 4 per cent gets notified.

This means that overall, 96 per cent of Kenya’s produce gets to the consumer. This dispels the notion that EU’s mandatory has affected many farmers. The farmers affected are within the 4 per cent of the volume rejected.

Food safety is paramount concern worldwide. The concern for consumers’ health, therefore, informed the decision for increased checks on horticultural produce. This means that it will not be business as usual for the horticultural farmer and/or exporter. The suppliers must meet the EU market requirements in order to continue exporting.

This calls for concerted efforts by the private sector, government, and farmers to ensure our products meet the stringent requirements set by the importing countries. For instance, traceability of produce from planting to harvesting is no longer an option; it is a must for export.

The government has formed the Horticultural Competent Authority Structure, which came up with a four-legged stool approach to ensure compliance. It comprises of four government agencies that are conducting national pesticide residue monitoring, pesticide formulation quality monitoring, traceability, training and research to ensure agricultural produce meets international requirements and standards.

It is possible to go from 10 per cent scrutiny to two per cent or less for our key horticultural exports if farmers and exporters do not re-export produce that has been rejected.

Farmers must adhere to the authorized and registered pesticides, observe pre-harvest intervals before harvesting, and use the appropriate pesticides. They also must a comprehensive traceability system from farm to fork.

Dr Onsando is managing director, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) and chairman of the Kenya National Task Force on Horticulture.

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