KENYA – Fresh produce exporters in Kenya are grappling with increased costs and logistical delays as major retailers in the European Union (EU) intensify efforts to reduce carbon emissions by limiting airfreight.

Prominent EU retailers, including Lidl, have implemented restrictions on air freight, affecting the supply chain for products like fresh fruits and vegetables.

Okisegere Ojepat, CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC), highlighted the industry’s struggle to comply with the tightened checks due to a lack of suitable transport infrastructure.

Ojepat stated, “We are not ready to meet this requirement at the moment. First, we do not have ready aggregation centres, and there are no locomotives equipped with the requisite cold storage to transport our produce to the port for sea export.”

This shift comes at a time when the Kenya Railways Corporation faces financial challenges, recording losses of KES 33.56 billion (USD 207.8 million) in the fiscal year ended June 2023.

The financial strain on the railways poses a significant hurdle for exporters who rely on air transport to swiftly reach European markets.

The move towards sea exports deals a blow to the fresh produce industry, as approximately 98 percent of Kenya’s fresh produce is typically shipped by air, according to a 2021 study by the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya.

Major European retailers, crucial buyers of Kenyan produce, have begun restricting air transportation in favor of sea transport.

Ojepat emphasized the need for financial support for Kenya Railways to acquire locomotives suitable for transporting fresh produce and urged the government to expedite the creation of aggregation centers.

He stated, “It is critical for Kenya Railways to get enough financial support to help them purchase enough locomotives that are equipped to transport fresh produce. The government should also expedite the creation of centers to aggregate produce.”

As a major source of foreign exchange for Kenya, fresh produce, including cut flowers, fruits, and vegetables, generated KES 152.3 billion (USD 943.04 million) in earnings in 2022.

Ojepat called for the swift establishment of aggregation centers accessible to the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to facilitate quick rail access to the Mombasa port for shipping.

Furthermore, Ojepat urged the government to accelerate the establishment of aggregation centers accessible to the SGR.

He proposed, “With the establishment of aggregation centers, farmers from regions such as western, Nyanza, and central will consolidate their produce on the meter gauge railway before connecting to the SGR.”

Despite the immediate hurdles, this shift aligns with Kenya’s broader environmental goals.

In June last year, the country unveiled a five-year plan, the National Cooling Action Plan for Kenya (NCAP) from 2023 to 2027, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from refrigeration appliances.

 Eng Festus Ng’eno, Environment and Climate Principal Secretary, emphasized that NCAP would contribute to making Kenya’s cooling sector more eco-friendly, meeting global climate action obligations, and fostering a transition to a low-carbon development pathway.

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