Kenya is developing a programme to assist countries within the Common Market for Eastern and Central Africa trading block to establish systems that will see them meet stringent export standards for fresh produce exports demanded by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
According to the managing director of the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis ) James Onsando, the decision stems from the realities of a globalised economy where the strength of an individual country no longer guarantees continued market access since trading under the World Trade Organization has shifted to clusters.
Last week, Kephis hosted a five-day workshop in Nairobi for countries in the block to brainstorm on each country’s training needs.
Kenya joined the league of OECD compliant nations in 2009, becoming the third country in Africa after South Africa and Morocco, a position that gives members automatic market access as a result of realizing the high sanitary and phytosanitary safety and hygiene standards set by the group.
Following the country’s sustaining of these standards as assessed annually, neighbouring countries have been trouping to Kenya, Dr Onsando says, to learn how to replicate the success back home, and hopefully join the OECD.
Part of Kenya’s supremacy in this area is the establishment of the Centre of Phytosanitary Excellence (COPE), that has become internationally recognized as a standards training institution.
The centre was funded by USAID, and is modeled on the United States Department of Agriculture, cited as one of the most effective body in the world in control of the movement of plant pests and diseases.
Dr Onsando says that with the opening of borders across countries within the East African Community and COMESA; and the free movement of goods and people, plant pests and diseases can now be transmitted easily, a development that endangers Kenya’s horticulture exports.
“Easy movement across borders exposes Kenya’s horticulture to the possibility of new pests and diseases which means we must help our neighbours to manage the situation,” he said.
Kephis was established in 1997 as a state agency to certify plants going in and coming out of Kenya as free of pests and diseases to contain both exports and imports of the same.
This is a standard practice globally, as countries fight to ensure that foreign pests and diseases are not introduced into their territories. Plant materials entering a country are therefore screened at the points of exit and entry, and in cases of detection, entry is denied and exports from the country of origin banned. In more serious cases, like in Japan, imports are fumigated at the airport. “It is extremely costly to manage new pests and diseases which can wreak total havoc on affected countries”, Dr Onsando said.
He explained that Kenya has invested heavily to avoid banning of its fresh exports, considering that this sector is among the top contributors to the country’s GDP. Last year, it is estimated to have earned some Ksh 250 billion in both export and domestic sales, employing some 8 million people in the value chain.
By CATHERINE RIUNGU