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Identity crisis

Nairobi, October 11, 2013. As Kenya fights for the branding of its produce out there, Hortinews has established that a section of foreign growers in the country are selling produce they grow here as produced elsewhere, to satisfy buyers expectations that they are from a ‘superior origin’.

To the world, Kenya is renowned for its flowers, long distance athletes, tea, coffee and wildlife. Countries are known to ride on the strength of their brands to market themselves to the world.

This week, reports abound that Tanzania, is in talks with the Dutch Royal Airline, KLM to fly their flowers directly to the largest flowers auction market in Amsterdam. Currently, over 65 per cent of Tanzanian flowers pass through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and are labeled as ‘Kenyan Produce’, but according to Dr James Onsando, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) managing director, when Kenya opens and inspects Tanzanian flowers, the agreement is they go out with the Kenyan label. If on the other hand the products just pass through without checks, it goes as Tanzania.

The Tanzania flower exports origin is complicated by the fact that some Kenyan growers based in Arusha want their produce labeled Kenyan while even some Tanzanians would rather sell their produce under the Kenya brand to ride on its success.

Globally, the Kenya brand in cut flowers is a first among equals, and Dr Onsando says as long as Tanzania flowers are inspected to meet the global quality requirements in Kenya by KEPHIS before being flown out, they will go under the Kenya brand.  Tanzania does not have Kenya’s level of globally accepted certification facilities.

Brand identity crisis is nothing new in Kenya. Agriculture Principal Secretary Sicily Kariuki sought to have the mark of origin on Kenya’s tea when she was the Managing Director Kenya Tea Board in a bid to strengthen brand Kenya. Kenyan tea loses identity the moment it is auctioned at the port of Mombasa. Unlike Kenya, Ethiopia is known to have the mark of origin implanted on its coffee.

Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) Managing Director Lerionka Tiampati in an interview said selling Kenyan branded Tea in international markets is simply not possible due market politics which have curved markets niches for their owners and they will not allow you to penetrate. This is despite the fact that Kenyan Tea is used the world over for blending produce from other countries.

Because of this position, value addition in the tea industry robs the country the chance to earn its worth in produce, and negatively affects factors such as job creation in the country.

Sadly, it is not in these sectors alone that the Country loses out. Revelations have it that fresh produce from Kenya destined for Europe gets repackaged and sold to the lucrative United Arab Emirates market at top dollar, leaving destitute Kenya to pick crumbles as smart market players in Europe heavy pockets burst at the seams.


By Catherine Riungu and Mutuiri Gitonga

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