HortiNews Aug-Sep 2019 Issue

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word from the Managing Editor

Catherine Riungu

Now we have it now we don’t

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When Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the country had struck a deal with China for avocado exports, the news was received with frenzy. A few months earlier, I remember receiving a call from State House asking for information about the fruit. I referred the caller to Ernest Muthomi the CEO of the Avocado Society of Kenya. Like a good citizen, the officer from the House on the Hill updated me on the outcome and appreciated the introduction. I didn’t give it much thought until excitement rent the air on the China deal.

As details started falling into place, the CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium Okisegere Ojepat was next.  We got a raw deal from China and we must renegotiate the terms. By we, OJ like we call him, meant the country and the negotiators of the Beijing market. As we discussed why Kenya couldn’t trade under the arrangement requiring export of peeled, chilled avocados due to lack of technology, a newspaper article had raised the same concern quoting farmers urging the government to go back to the drawing board. It has not been possible to establish how far the talks, if any, to renegotiate have gone. Neither the Horticulture Crops Directorate, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya or the Export Promotion Council is forthcoming with a clear position on the deal.

Be that as it may, it is clear Kenya has upped its avocado production and as reported extensively in this edition, the crop is poised to grow into one of the largest agribusinesses in the coming years. The expressing open optimism. Keitt, arguably the largest buyer of avocados from contracted farmers,which says the fruit is currently its signature export product, is building a modern pack house and processing factory in Kenol, Murang’a County. In the words of a director of the firm, the factory will take all available fruit for processing from its contracted growers. Mofarm on the other hand is moving to a bigger pack house and reports a shortage of avocado bigger pack house and reports a shortage of avocados.

Back to the China deal, HortiNews sort the views of exporters and industry experts. One said simply; its madness. But, she hastened to add, it could be an opportunity to bring the technology to Kenya, a big boost to our industrial development and increased earnings. OJ lamented lack of fumigation facilities fora country that sits among global giants when it comes to fresh produce exports. Now, talks about setting up a fumigation centre date back to early 2000 and it’s unbelievable almost 20 years later JKIA is yet to see one. This at a time our largest buyer, the EU is revising rules on quarantine pests leading to rejection of produce due to emerging pests such as the False Coddling Moth that has found a new home in roses sending growers and inspection firms back to their pockets in search of instruments to ensure exports are free of the moth and other dudus.

The challenge of increasing invasion of pests and diseases, says Magana Flowers CEO Nicholas Ambanya resulted from shortages of fertilizer earlier in the year that weakened flowers leaving them susceptible to attacks. Costs to stay afloat are reportedly on the upwards of 40 per cent , a not too rosy picture for the flower industry.

As stated at the beginning of this column, HortiNews got a call from State House inquiring on the avocado.This tells you of a huge gap in availability of information on horticulture and for the umpteenth time we reiterate the need for this sector data to be consolidated and a centralized information system for reference be created. Who speaks for the industry again? We are yet to get an answer.

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