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Dr Wilson Songa

Dr Wilson Songa emphasises the need for good agricultural practice
Dr Wilson Songa emphasises the need for good agricultural practice

Rising to Europe's standards on Good Agricultural Practice

Dr Wilson Songa is Managing Director of Kenya's Horticultural Crops Development Authority.

Horticulture is vitally important to the Kenyan economy. It is a labour-intensive sector, employing directly and indirectly about 2.5 million Kenyans, many of them smallholder farmers. It is also our second largest foreign currency earning export commodity, after tea, and makes a significant contribution to world markets. For example, a quarter of the cut flowers imported by European markets come from Kenya. Our traditional markets have been mainly the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands. However, the increase in member countries of the EU is creating new marketing opportunities. Dubai is also emerging as a new market for us, particularly for flowers but also fruit and vegetables; we hope to be exporting there by the end of the year.

We actually export only about 5 per cent of our horticultural produce, the rest being consumed locally, but this small fraction contributes about half of the total annual earnings of our horticultural sector. For fruit and vegetables, the bulk of exports are grown by smallholder farmers, and usually bring them much better income than they can get from selling locally. Consequently, the Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA) is putting a lot of emphasis in ensuring that these smallholders meet the standards on traceability and pesticide use that are required, especially for the EU market. We are also trying to encourage value addition on these products, selling less bulk products, so that they can fetch even higher prices.

Beating the competition

We face stiff competition from West Africa and from South America but are fortunate in having good infrastructure, and in being able to offer our products to European markets at very competitive prices. Some products come from environments that can actually be regarded as organic; some of our fruit production does not use pesticides at all. Smallholders that do use pesticides are required to use those that degrade easily. As these are expensive, they only tend to be used in very low quantities.

However, maintaining good environmental standards is of major concern especially in the large production farms around Naivasha, an area that is famous for its large flower farms and to some extent its vegetable production. It is the task of the Kenya Flower Council (KFC) to ensure that all its members observe the environmental requirements as much as possible, a responsibility the Council is taking very seriously. The National Environment Management Agency (NEMA) is also ensuring that all effluent flowing into Lake Naivasha is properly treated and complies with internationally-set requirements.

Ensuring good working conditions for farm labourers - giving our production a human face - is another major concern. In some farms now, workers are provided with breakfast and lunch, something that never used to happen before. On one farm, all the workers' children - more than 400 youngsters - get free primary education. This is the direction we would like to see this industry take, so the proceeds from production trickle down to the people that actually grow the produce to the high standards required for export to the EU.

When some of the European retailers first announced their standards for good agricultural practice (EurepGAP) there was panic in Kenya and fears that our produce would no longer be wanted. We are fortunate that the EU has been very sensitive to us and encouraged us so that we can meet the standards set by the retailers without necessarily making our farmers suffer. They have given us some time-frames which, though difficult, have helped to ensure that we meet their requirements. We hope that as such conditions become more and more stringent, the regulators continue to be sensitive to the needs of small producers, both in Kenya and elsewhere, so that they can retain their livelihoods.

Small is beautiful

I strongly believe that the smallholder farmer has got a place in international markets. We were extremely encouraged by the visit of the Chairman of EurepGAP, Nigel Garbutt, in February this year, who came to see for himself the circumstances under which we are making sure that these smallholders are meeting the requirements of the market, and helping farmers to get certification as EurepGAP-compliant. We strongly support the development of a national standard (KenyaGAP) which takes into account our local conditions, ethics and structure of the Kenyan industry. It will be benchmarked against EurepGAP so that we have a cross-cutting standard that is applicable for all export markets.

The buyers in Europe are insisting on good agricultural practice by all their suppliers, wherever they are in the world. Our smallholders grow more than 70% of the fruit and vegetables Kenya exports. Good agricultural practice is good for them and Kenya too. We have an industry of enormous strength and we have to make sure we keep it that way.

Date published: July 2005


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