By CATHERINE RIUNGU
The flower industry in Kenya has had a rough year. While it wouldn’t serve any purpose listing the challenges that threaten the survival of a sector that has placed Kenya on the global map, we end 2019 by mentioning one of the fresh headaches. The Australian market. According to growers, the Aussies have said in no uncertain terms they are least concerned with pesticides but they don’t want a single dudu in their territory. Consequently, stakeholders are scratching their heads for a solution without much working in their favour. Unconfirmed reports indicate some growers have stopped shipping to the country alltogether as others set up an Australia orders line. We followed the line in one of the farms and can tell you it takes a surgeon’s precision to finally transport a dudu-free petal to the highly sensitive market. Be that as it may, the battle must be won as witnessed in the farms that have decided there is no let-up in meeting the stringent requirements.
Crop protection experts say Kenya has what it takes to handle pest-related challenges considering the country is miles ahead in entrenching Integrated Crop Management Systems, a mix of cultural, conventional, synthetic, biological and the natural pest control methods.
The action by Australia has rekindled talks on the need to establish a fumigation centre at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for treatment of flowers and other fresh produce to achieve zero pests and decrease the cost of the service when done at the point of entry. It is sad to know that way back in 2000 or a little earlier, plans had started to gift Kenya with a fumigation plant funded by the Japan International Technical Coorperation but the process died without moving out of the strategic talks. Granted, it’s not cheap to build the facility and the institution that should manage it according to industry experts is the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service that is underfunded knocking it off the delivery expectations. The private sector says though quietly that it is indeed possible to domicile the service within some premises at the JKIA but no tangible talks have been floated to jumpstart the process. So, what are we waiting for? If the EU goes ahead and follows Australia, inevitably, a fumigation centre will have to be built. Now, instead of waiting until push comes to shove, the government must move with speed and ensure Kenya can sterlize its flowers for markets sustainability before it is too late.
Still on this topic of market requirements, as we went to press avocado exports had been banned to avoid shipping of premature fruits to the chagrin of growers who feel the practice is unfair. If we were to go a little back into the disaster that befell our macadamia exports due to selling premature nuts, we cannot risk losing our avocado markets, not with the effort on the ground to increase area under production, that has been dubbed the avocado revolution. Some pundits have attempted to spread fears that we risk overproducing this fruit but according to the Avocado Society of Kenya, global demand is on the surge while locally the fruit is on unprecedented demand.
As we eat more avocados and take measurs to win the Australian flower markets, Kenya is currently on high gear regarding food safety and as published in this edition, a team has been put together to craft a way forward in ensuring our food systems place safe food on our plates. We can only wish the team God speed.
We step into 2020 with uncertainty but hopeful things will turn around.
Merry Xmass and a pest-free 2020