KENYA – Kenya Railways is making significant strides to tap into the country’s booming horticulture export market by investing heavily in refrigerated containers, commonly known as reefers.

This move aligns with Kenya’s ambitious plan to transport up to 50% of its horticultural products, including flowers, avocados, and macadamia nuts, by sea freight, targeting European markets.

According to the article published in The Star, Kenya Railways is expecting the arrival of the first batch of 20 reefers for its Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) operations by mid-July.

Alongside these, the corporation has also procured 500 wagons and additional passenger coaches to enhance its service capacity. This investment aims to facilitate the transportation of perishable goods more efficiently from the agricultural hub of Naivasha to the port city of Mombasa.

“We will be doing the first trial on reefers this month, moving perishable goods from Naivasha to Mombasa,” said Kenya Railway managing director Phillip Mainga. He emphasized that rail transport is not only more convenient but also boasts lower carbon emissions compared to road transport.

Kenya Railways is promoting rail transport by offering volume discounts of 5% to 15% to importers and exporters who enter into transport agreements with the corporation.

Rail transport offers a faster and more reliable alternative to road transport, with the journey from Mombasa to Nairobi taking just eight hours, compared to longer and often unpredictable road journeys.

“Moving cargo by rail is more efficient, taking eight hours from Mombasa to Nairobi and ten hours to Naivasha,” Mainga noted. “It is more convenient than roads, which suffer delays due to traffic.”

In addition to enhancing SGR operations, Kenya Railways has linked the SGR with the Metre Gauge Railway (MGR) line at Naivasha, facilitating faster cargo movement from Mombasa to Malaba.

While road transport can take up to five days, rail transport covers the same distance in about 28 hours, offering a more efficient option for long-haul cargo.

The shift to sea freight has significant implications for Kenya’s horticulture sector. The Kenya Flower Council aims to ship 50% of the country’s flower exports by sea within the next seven years. This transition, supported by the European Union, promises substantial cost savings for exporters.

“Sea freight requires careful planning and scheduling, but flowers reach the market in perfect condition,” said Clement Tulezi, CEO of the Kenya Flower Council.

The Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya estimates that sea freight could reduce costs by 40% to 50% compared to air freight. Airfreight rates at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport range between USD 4.50 and USD 6 per kilo, while sea freight costs about USD 3 per kilo.

The horticulture sector has seen consistent growth, with earnings rising from KES 147.1 billion (USD 1.14 billion) in 2022 to KES 153.7 billion (USD 1.19 billion) in 2023 according to the Economic Survey 2024.

The EU, Kenya’s largest export market for flowers and other horticultural products, has been instrumental in supporting the country’s shift to sustainable sea freight.

Netherlands’ ambassador to Kenya, Maarten Brouwer, highlighted the need for close collaboration with the private sector to ensure a smooth transition. “It is important to create export volumes, optimize systems, and foster innovations in port development,” Brouwer emphasized.

With these investments and collaborative efforts, Kenya Railways is set to play a pivotal role in the future of the country’s horticulture exports, ensuring they reach global markets efficiently and sustainably.

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