KENYA – Kenya is racing against time to beat the September 30 European Union deadline for ensuring that horticultural produce meets stringent safety standards, failure to which the sector will suffer a severe blow.
The ministry of Agriculture says it has formed a task force to work with extension officers to provide the necessary information in areas where problems of food safety originate both for export and domestic markets.
The move follows an alert issued by the European Union that food meant for export to their markets contained more chemical residue than permissible for safe human consumption in their countries.
Already, the ministry has sent on compulsory leave the heads of the Horticultural Crops Development Authority and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate as it seeks to solve the problem.
Horticultural authority acting managing director Grace Kyalo and her Kephis counterpart Dr James Onsando, were sent on compulsory leave for 62 days, and the Efficiency Monitoring Unit called in to investigate the institutions.
“From a ministry point of view, we should not have waited for the EU red flag. But then we have increased the sampling frame to intercept products with a lot of exposure, and some like karella (bitter gourd) and eryngium flowers that the EU identified are now subjected to 100 per cent inspection at the point of exit,” said Agriculture Secretary Sicily Kariuki.
The horticultural sector employs over six million Kenyans directly or indirectly and earned the country more than Sh90 billion last year, up from up from Sh88 billion in 2012.
The EU continues to take the bulk of Kenya’s horticultural exports and 40 per cent of the sub-Saharan Africa’s agriculture produce under the Cotonou Partnership agreement between African, Caribbean and Pacific nations and EU of 2000.
More than 150,000 farmers export fresh produce to the EU market, which is 10 per cent of all horticulture farmers.
The PS told the Sunday Nation that Kephis has also been authorised to procure advanced equipment for their laboratories in order to enhance analysis.
Even then, the government says the inspection will also be done at the farm level to ensure that both the domestic and international markets get the cleanest and safest produce.
“We are ensuring there is traceability of the produce. Also, the Pest Capital Products Board has been asked to ensure only safe pesticides are stocked, and we are dealing with agro-dealers who stock wrong or harmful pesticides. The agro-dealers should ensure the toxicological components are the right ones.
The pests board is also training farmers to detect and determine the post-harvest consumption interval (the period between harvesting and when the produce can be consumed),” said Ms Kariuki.
The Pest Capital Products Board regulates the import and export, manufacture, distribution and use of pest control products.
In 2010, the EU revised the maximum residue limits from 0.2 per cent to 0.02 per cent of chemicals in horticultural products exported to their market in order to meet consumer standards.
That change, in technical terms, is the lowest point of detection. A maximum residue level is the maximum amount of residue legally permitted on food.
Once residues are demonstrated to be safe for consumers, MRLs are set by independent scientists, based on rigorous evaluation of each pesticide legally authorised.
After the audit, the EU added four more products mangoes, two types of flowers gypsophila and eryngium and karella (bitter gourd) said to harbor offensive organisms such as fruit flies, leaf miners and thrips and threatened more sanctions if nothing were done to eradicate them.
The horticultural authority has suspended the licences of five exporters due to high levels of pesticide residue.
EU data shows that between January and April, there were between two and four interceptions. This number rose to five in May and to nine between June and July.
“The interception of Kenyan produce in EU market is not about the maximum residue level alone. It is a combination of factors – maximum residue levels, harmful organisms and wrong or lack of proper export documentation,” the PS said.