By BOB KOIGI
January 20,2017, Nairobi. Kenya’s horticultural industry has received a major boost following the unveiling of a cloud based system that will now make it possible to trace any shipment that does not comply with market standards on arrival in the export market to be traced back to source, with a view to instituting immediate remedial actions.
The system, dubbed the National Horticulture Traceability System is unique to Kenya, and comes at a time when the sector has been blighted by frequent interceptions of exports due to excessive pesticide maximum residue levels and the presence of regulated pests in export consignments. This had put the over 6.5 million Kenyans who rely on the sector for income and employment at risk.
The launch of the system is a culmination of spirited efforts by government and private sector in trying to resuscitate a sector that was headed to doldrums. 2013 was perhaps the worst year for the sector. Beans and peas exports from Kenya were subjected to 10 per cent inspection at all ports of entry into the EU because of inability of Kenya to demonstrate existence of an effective national traceability system for horticultural produce and continued detection of pesticide residue in beans and peas beyond the recommended levels leading to a 60 per cent reduction in exports. 50,000 smallholder farmers lost their jobs and incomes as a result of drop in production of beans and peas for exports with the local industry losing 3.4 billion shillings annually in costs of testing pesticide residues in exports.
“There is a very high implication when you get the recalls and border interceptions. When you talk of the 10 per cent sampling, it means you are going to pay for that,” said Dr. Margaret Muchui, CEO of Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya, FPEAK. Veg Pro one of the exporters was spending up to Sh700,000 weekly to facilitate the tests represent the extent to which growers and exporters were hemorrhaging.
The system, whose trialed was mooted about 20 months ago has been pivotal in increasing market confidence in the export markets while safeguarding the over 2.5 million smallholder farmers involved in export horticulture.
The pilot project involved 12 export companies and 1,460 smallholders growing beans and peas in 10 countries. The system has three main components. A mobile app for registering farmers and capturing routine farm operations and agronomic practices, a web reporting portal for sharing information among stakeholders and a barcode and Quick Reference (QR) code printing module.
It can accommodate up to one million farmers and has the capacity to identify the exact source of a shipment through its GPS coordinates, and generate online production and handling reports required by the market.
“Traceability is about being able to respond quickly in the event of there being any problem whatsoever with Kenyan produce in the market. What we wanted was a system whereby if a box of Kenya produce was for any reason found to be missing any requirements, it would be possible through this national traceability system to track it all the way back to the grower. This is particularly challenging in Kenya because we have thousands of small scale growers who supply to the top supermarkets in Europe so it is critical that we can get back to each one of those in the event of a problem,” said
Dr. Steve New Chief of Party at the Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprises Project of USAID. It has also come as a welcome relief to agronomists who traditionally used to carry bags of paperwork for record keeping while visiting farmers. “ It was quite a daunting task moving around with bags of papers to record the produce. With the traceability system has made my work so simple because I only need to move around with my phone,” said
James Gichuru technical assistant at Veg Pro. With the system, regulations and compliance officials have been able to also save time in identifying the exact location where a problem is detected.
“What used to happen before is that when a problem arose with any produce one had to traverse quite a large area trying to identify how best to identify a problem. With the current system, it has become much easier to locate where the problem is and be able to rectify it in time,” said Wilfred Yako, Regulations and Compliance officer at the Horticultural Crops Directorate.
And as the industry now warms up to the system players in the export markets have also welcomed it as key in fostering the longstanding relations with Kenya.
“Traceability is vital for UK retailers and customers who need to have the confidence in where their product is coming from and how it is grown so we are delighted that the Kenyan growers, exporters and importers together with Kenyan authorities have brought together this national scheme Sian Thomas Communications Manager Fresh Produce Consortium UK.