Fresh produce farmers, firms banned from European Union market

Dr James Onsando, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) MD

More than 5,000 horticulture farmers and 11 horticulture firms have been banned from exporting fresh produce to the European Union (EU) market. The withdrawal of licences arises from the high levels of pesticides and other harmful organisms in their produce.

The move comes one and half months before the set deadline by the EU for Kenya to have fully contained the problem, after local producers and exporters were accused of consistently shipping produce that has high leaves of maximum residuals limits (MRLs) to the EU. This is contrary to new trading requirements by the EU, developed out of consumer preferences in EU.

Under the Horticulture Competent Authority Structure (HCAS), Kenyan State agencies responsible for enhancing compliance say the 11 companies have had their licences suspended for a month to have their production system audited, but the companies could not be disclosed due to legal reasons. The State agencies handling the case include Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KariI).

HCAS chairman James Onsando, who is also Kephis managing director says this is happening after the EU changed its legislation requiring exporting companies to comply with new regulations. “We have been notified by the EU of various companies that have been exporting produce that has high levels of MRLs and equally, farmers are not adhering to the global agricultural practices,” said Dr Onsando.

“The new requirements demand that farmers desist from using chemicals suspected to cause further consequences such as diseases to consumers.” He says the moment a company is intercepted at the point of entry into any of the EU countries due to the high chemical content, the Government is notified and the exporting entities are not allowed back into fresh produce trade until they comply with the set regulations. He observed that some of the companies suspended from trading with EU have been intercepted more than five times. Onsando, however, noted that some owners of the said companies still remain in the business after registering new entities to continue accessing the EU market.

“The violation of the requirement is complicating our relations with the EU,” he added.  Government will gazette new regulations to assist in destruction of produce seized having not complied with the set EU requirements. “To enforce compliance, the Government has prepared legal amendments to gazette for the restriction to using dimethoate, omethoate and chlorpyriphos and destruction of non-compliant produce,” he added. Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei questioned the competency of the State agencies charged with inspecting fresh produce before it is shipped.

He said the high chemical content in farm produce could see Kenya losing the opportunity to benefit from the high-end EU market. “We have been given a deadline of September 30, this year to fully comply with the MRL rules, otherwise, we will be locked out of the market, which would be a huge loss to the entire economy,” said  Koskei. Blocking local producers from the market will endanger six million Kenyan jobs directly and indirectly. Up to 150,000 farmers export fresh produce to the EU, which is 10 per cent of all horticulture farmers.

EU in 2012 made changes in its legislation that has made it difficult for the exported beans and peas in pods to meet the requirements of pesticide MRLs. In January 2013, the EU decided to sample these exports at a frequency of 10 per cent to verify compliance.

However, 90 per cent of the beans and peas in pods still enters the market without being subject to the testing.  “Of the 100 per cent fresh produce exported to the EU market from Kenya, it is only three per cent that does not meet the required standards. Every other time, we are receiving information from the EU on companies having seized exporting produce with harmful organism,” said Dr Onsando.

Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya Chief Executive Stephen Mbithi said inspection of the companies exporting fresh produce is gradual and not done at once. “We are working with the Government to ensure sound compliance,” said Dr Mbithi.