Farmers suffer as fruit imports go up

A trader on Old Uganda Road in Eldoret on September 4, 2020. A lot of the fruits consumed locally are imported. [Peter Ochieng', Standard]

Kenyans’ growing appetite for imported fruits is hurting trade in fresh produce across the East African region.

A new study shows that trade in fruits across the East African Community (EAC) has declined over the years as residents opt for imported produce over locally grown fruit.

As a result, the value of fruits imported by the region’s nations has tripled between 2012 and 2018.

Kenyan traders have over time cited high cost of locally grown fruits as key driver to preference for imports from other markets such as South Africa, the Netherlands, Egypt and Spain.

Most of the imported fruits are, however, available or can be produced locally.

“Intra-EAC trade in edible fruits has experienced an erratic growth with sharp declines and increases throughout the period. Overall, intra-EAC exports have declined from USD28 million (Sh2.9 billion) in 2012 to USD10 million (Sh1.08 billion) in 2018,” said the report by the East African Business Council (EABC). “However, imports have enjoyed a relatively steady increase from approximately USD5 million (Sh540 million) to USD16 million (Sh1.73 billion) over the same period.”

The report notes that lack of access to credit, as well as high tax regime on imported seeds and other inputs have disadvantaged local farmers, whose produce has to compete with fruits produced at low costs.

EABC said creating local markets for local produce, where EAC countries trade more among themselves as they export to other markets, might help absorb the shocks when the export markets are not performing well.

Other than the major and traditional export markets, there is potential to grow the market in the region, especially in the wake of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

“The over-dependence on external market outlets makes horticulture vulnerable to changes in the demand for horticultural products and unexpected non-trade barriers by foreign markets,” said EABC.

It commended the potential for growth in the horticulture sector, where increase in value addition can create more jobs and earnings for the country and farmers.  

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