A cargo airline has stopped operating from Eldoret International Airport while another is making only one flight a week due to low freight volumes.
The airlines cite low horticultural production in the North Rift for their decision.
According to Canken International, an exporting agency at the airport, a 60 per cent drop in horticultural production has forced the firm to outsource some of the produce from central and eastern Kenya to meet the 40 tonnes required for a cargo flight.
The shortage was precipitated by the dry spell that hit the country from late last year to early April.
Turkish Airlines, the latest entrant at the Eldoret airport, has halted its flights, while Air Egypt is making only one trip every week.
The airport received a major boost from the global market with the re-introduction of two direct cargo export flights to the Middle East last year.
The overseas flights were cancelled in 2007 due to lack of required volumes to fill one cargo flight.
Canken says the drop could have been avoided if farmers had embraced irrigated farming.
“We are currently obtaining our commodities from eastern and central Kenya because these areas have utilised water from rivers Tana and Athi,” said Can Kane export manager Dominic Biwott.
The firm has begun to train farmers in the North Rift in growing mangoes, avocados and passion fruit for export as it aims to reach the required volumes and standards for export to Middle East and Europe.
Mr. Biwott says the company has introduced extension services to farmers, especially in Elgeiyo Marakwet County.
“We have realized that the region has potential to produce more mangoes, but farmers lack knowledge and information on how to grow them for export,” he said.
Canken is working in conjunction with the Horticultural Development Authority and the Netherlands Development Organisation to train the farmers.
Mr Biwott said the company had set aside Sh48 million for training in various technological developments aimed at increasing the volumes.
Mr Jamil Jamal Aldeen, a Dubai-based businessman and general manager of Exporter-Importers Cargo Services, says countries in the Middle East prefer fruit from Kenya.
“Kenyan fruits are natural and of high quality, and that is why we prefer them,” he said.
Dubai’s demand for horticultural products requires at least 160 tonnes a week, and the amount he is importing from Kenya right now is much lower. Airport manager Peter Wafula said the airport was still under-utilised as there were more imports than exports.
Mr Wafula noted that the airport has a potential to earn Sh30 billion a year although it was now earning less than Sh200 million annually.
He was optimistic that the airport could record 15 per cent growth by the end of next year, saying they had put in place measures to ensure the airport was vibrant in both imports and exports.
The managing director of African Salihiya Cargo, Mr. Mohamed Sheikh, said the interest international cargo airlines have shown in the airport was evidence that there is a potential for the growth of horticulture in the region.
Mr. Sheikh noted that Eldoret International Airport was closer to Europe and the Middle East than Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in terms of geographical position and navigation, making it the best option for export firms given that it is cheaper.
By Gerald Andae
May 20, 2012.