[David Gichuru, Standard]

The government working to automate the process of fresh produce traceability from farm to market.

There has been a decrease in the number of interceptions done on Kenya's export produce destined to the European Union market. This is owing to the stringent food safety measures being taken by the relevant regulators.

According to the Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD), the number of interceptions done on export produce from January to October this year is at 11 per cent compared to 40 per cent last year.

This is a significant decrease of close to 60 per cent interceptions in the last five years. The interceptions are due to various reasons including high levels of maximum residue level (MRL) in the product.

The European Commission defines MRL as the highest level of a pesticide residue in food or feed, that is legally tolerated when a plant protection product (PPP) is applied correctly or good agricultural practice. The Commission fixes MRLs for all food and animal feed and the amounts of residues found in food must be safe for consumers and must be as low as possible.

To address this, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development through the AFA - Horticultural Crops Directorate and the USAID-funded RTI-KCDMS have partnered to develop an online National Horticulture Traceability System.

Cornelly Serem, chairman Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) said the traceability system is meant to automate the process of fresh produce traceability from farm to market.

He explained that the system was developed to increase transparency and accountability in horticultural supply chains in response to recent challenges faced by the industry in complying with the EU and international food safety requirements.

“These requirements include lack of a national traceability system for horticultural produce and frequent interceptions of exports due to excessive pesticide residue limits and the presence of regulated pests in export consignments. These challenges pose a threat to the competitiveness of Kenyan horticulture exports to the EU which is our main market,” said Serem.

He added that the implementation of this system will bring about a paradigm shift not only in the horticulture sector.

Serem said the system should be integrated with that of other relevant government agencies such as Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) for ease of access by stakeholders.

Last year Kenya recorded 62 interceptions of export of fresh produce to the European Union market destinations of France, Netherlands and Germany and 57 in 2021. Acephate is one of the chemicals that is banned in EU but is in use in Kenya.

Traces of the chemical were found in the beans and peas exported from Kenya hence the interception.