New transport plans a big boost to food security

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020 00:00 |
Peter Munya, Kenya's Cabinet Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives addresses journalists in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, March 31, 2020. Kenya is committed to ensuring food security despite the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic which may disrupt the agricultural system. (Xinhua/Charles Onyango)

Okisegere Ojepat 

Securing food security has emerged as an imperative as the Covid-19 pandemic ravages the globe, prompting the government to put in place measures prioritising food supply amid the various restrictions.

Other nations, too, are reporting looming food shortages, so serious that Europe has now loosened its import requirements on fresh fruit and vegetables to allow in more supplies.

Being arguably the biggest horticultural exporter on the continent,  Kenya should take advantage of the relaxed Europe requirements  to export more.

Most countries around the world have restricted air travel affecting the volume of air cargo moving ferried. In Kenya, we used to have six airlines dealing with cargo-only flights out of Nairobi.

Together, those flights accounted for about 60 per cent of our air cargo, while cargo carried by passenger flights accounted for another 40 per cent.

That 40 per cent has stopped, but so too have the majority of cargo flights. Where we had cargo flights coming in and out that could carry 1400 tonnes a week, we can only transport just 360 tonnes now. 

A big factor in this is South Africa. Most of these flights used to head to South Africa full of cargo from Europe, then stop at Nairobi on the way back to fill up with fresh produce for the return flight.

But South Africa is now detaining cargo crew for 21 days as soon as they land, meaning firms can only fly out to Kenya empty.

Some, such as Cargolux Airlines, have stopped while others have reduced the number of weekly cargo flights.

Our own dusk-to-dawn curfew is also affecting free movement of goods, meaning there are times we do not even fill the 360 tonnes.

A video of a driver ferrying foodstuffs being harassed by police officers for breaching curfew instilled fear among many.

Never mind that fresh produce needs to be transported at night to avoid damage by heat.

But a solution has been found for this problem, with the registration of trucks ferrying foodstuff. 

In a scheme approved by the Ministry of Trade, the trucks will bear a sticker—a fresh produce vehicle pass—to allow them to operate at night. The driver details and vehicle details have been circulated to security services to ensure they are cleared.

To ensure no Kenyan farmer is  left with rotting fruit or vegetables for lack of transport, there is a helpline to guarantee food collections and sales. Any farmer can now call 0722408210 to have their produce picked up.

There are false reports that Kenya cannot sell vegetables in Europe now. The opposite is true. It is seeking not only our normal supplies, but larger amounts with lesser quality issues for the interim. 

All the produce headed to Europe recently has been cleared effortlessly as its own fresh food supplies collapse, most notably in Spain.

Thus, we are now chasing the final piece in our own jigsaw to ensure more fresh produce is exported  by working to get Kenya Airways to resume cargo flights. At the moment, it has stopped every flight.

As a nation, we need to support our farmers and our food transporters and achieve our own food security and deliver food security to our foreign buyers too.  It’s possible and we have the capacity. —The writer CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya

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