Sustaining the business?

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February 16, 2018, Nairobi. The word “Sustain” has a very simple meaning. If you ‘sustain’ something, you continue with it or maintain it for a period of time. Therefore, a sustainable horticultural business is that which can be maintained. Within horticulture, there are three components of sustainability. The first is economic profitability; for a business to be sustained, it needs to make a profit so that it can pay the wages, run and maintain the activities and invest for the future. These functions ensure that the business will be there tomorrow.

Horticulture also uses a range of resources. These include land, water, air and biodiversity. Damaging them impairs the ability of business to function and continue. A healthy environment is the second component that is needed to ensure a horticultural business can continue to function. The third and last component is the people.

No business can survive without people, whether they are harvesters, packhouse graders, field supervisors, drivers or managers. Therefore, to achieve harmony and staff satisfaction, social and economic equity is required.

Government Contribution

Sustainability is achieved in numerous ways. Governments create legislation that governs all its three components – they pass laws. Governments encourage and incentivise the business sector that creates employment, promotes investment but also taxes the businesses that subsequently provides resources and facilities for the community.

Governments establish authorities like NEMA, whose purpose it is to protect the environment while the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) regulates the approval and use of pesticides which in turn protects both the environment and the workers. KEPHIS also has a role to protect our environment such as evaluating the risk of introducing non-indigenous species into the Kenya environment. Finally, government has a raft of labour laws from minimum wages, housing allowances and health and safety to ensure that workers are treated fairly and equitably. Basically, governments set the minimum standards that businesses should operate under.

Private Voluntary Standards

Most actors in the horticultural industry operate at a much higher standard of practices than required by the law. This has been developed over some years through the implementation of private standards developed by the customer, (e.g. a European supermarket) and adopted by the business.

There are many of these standards, such as GLOPBALGAP, Fairtrade, MPS, KenyaGAP, as well as individual customer standards. Though demanding, they have been a major contributor to improving the sustainability of the horticultural industry. Interestingly, Aldi, a European supermarket chain recently stated; “sustainable products should become a matter of course for retailers and consumers. The floral and plant purchasing policy is another commitment to our holistic sustainability strategy.” It also said that “together with our suppliers, we wish to ensure the cultivation of flowers and plants that preserves both the environment and takes into account the health of workers. Our customers should be able to trace the origin of their flowers transparently,”

Horticulture is one of the most intensive users of resources and inputs. Similarly, horticulture has one of the highest outputs per unit area of any class of agricultural business. There have been numerous ways of measuring the impact of the business activities on the environment including Environmental Impacts Assessments, Life Cycle Assessments, Environmental Footprints, to name but a few. As a consequence, the industry has recognized that here is a need to measure the impact of its activities and to be a guardian over the environment, the land and people; to ensure that they are all here today and tomorrow.

Safer Cleaner Technologies.

Increased sustainability has partly been achieved through the adoption of safer and cleaner technologies. This includes water recycling, water conservation and storage, waste water treatment (wetlands), composting green waste, improved cultural practices that reduce negative impacts on the environment and farm staff, minimizing air pollution (waste burning restrictions), plastic waste collection and recycling. Over the last 10-15 years, the horticultural industry in Kenya has made great strides in the reduction in pesticide use.

The toxicity of products used has been reduced, the quantities applied have declined and the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) adopted besides increase in the use of biological control as an alternative to pesticides. This has only been possible because they are available, are affordable and they work! Everyone has benefitted, including the staff on the farms handling the crops, the environment, the customer as well as the crop itself. Kenya should be proud that the horticultural industry is a world leader in sustainable practices because of innovative and responsible farming.

Dr Henry Wainwright is the General
Manager, Real IPM.

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