News that Kenyan fresh produce exports to the lucrative EU market are to be subjected to tighter scrutiny before their produce can reach customers is heartwrenching as it is painful to thousands of farmers who earn a living from this trade.
The argument being advanced by the regulators is that the produce from Kenya have been found to have higher levels of dimethoate which are way above the accepted Maximum Residual levels. Now Kenya is supposed 10 percent samples for tests before they are allowed into the EU market.
This is not the first time such allegations have been levelled against Kenya. Buthe litany of complaints is not the issue. Its what these allegations do every time they surface.
For example in the current situation, over 5,000 farmers are affected, with the volume of exports to the EU market falling by 30 percent. Now that is a huge margin for a country that prides itself in having earned e87.71 billion Kenyan shillings from the cultivation of fruit, vegetables, flowers and nuts in 2012. This is positioning horticulture as a prime income earner for the economy.
But the back and forth fighting over growing conditions of Kenya fresh produce especially by importers should not be taken lightly. For with each suspicion we not only loose billions but also dent our image to a great extent.
A ban on Kenyan avocado by South Africa two years ago on suspicion of being fruit fly infested not only came losses amounting to millions but took a lot of time, PR and energy to repair the image of the country not just with South Africa, but with other traditional importers when word went round.
But forget about the blame game or who is right between the customer and the exporter.Kenya in this case, where exactly is the problem and how do we best seal it.
While it is generally accepted that farmers cant do without pesticides and other pest control mechanisms, especially the fresh produce farmers, it is important to keep hammering into them the importance of responsible farming.
Pesticides ensure that crops grow to maturity,healthy and pest free. That is why the importers dont ban pesticides but allow minimum use of them. And there is the point. Our farmers, even as they shoulder blame on excessive use of pesticides, havent received adequate information on how best to 'farm responsibly'.
While it is appreciated that the country cannot entirely do away with synthetic agrochemicals, biological or alternative pest control methods are provided the much needed balance and are actually working. Elgon Kenya Limited for example has been in the forefront in championing a balance between synthetic pesti control method and biological means to guarantee safety.
It has partnered with London Based Russels Company to supply integrated pest management systems that encourages minimum use of pesticides. IPM's like pheromone traps targeting the voracious aphids, whiteflies and thrips together with sticky boards, rods and physical traps meant to eliminate fruit flies and supplied by Elgon Kenya, are recording impressive uptake as Kenya growers, whose lion share of export market is in UK, step up use of natural enemies and other cultural methods of wading off pests.
But more importantly is the rich network of Elgon Kenya's field officers spread across major food producing zones in the country. Their presence has made a mark and difference in the end products as they walk the farmers through the entire crop production process. Information is the only sure bet to ensure production of clean and globally competitive Kenyan produce.