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Farmers urged to take advantage of the EPA agreement


Prof Lusike Wasilwa from Kenya Agriculural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) speaks to press during the closing ceremony of EU-funded Market Access Upgrade Programme (MARKUP) in Nairobi. [Kennedy Gachuhi, Standard]

Kenyan farmers have been urged to exploit new opportunities created under the European Union (EU)-Kenya Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

Kenya and the EU signed the agreement on June 19 this year, a deal that now allows local agricultural products to find their way into the EU market duty-free.

This comes at a time when the EU has also concluded a four years implementation period geared towards enhancing competitiveness and market access for select Kenyan produce locally, regionally and internationally.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), in partnership with government and private sector, implemented the EU-funded training programme dubbed Market Access Upgrade Programme (MARKUP) in 12 counties.

EU Representative for Finance and Private Sector Development Adolfo Cires has termed the EU-Kenya deal as timely and in line with the MARKUP programme.

"To export fresh farm produce to the EU market, there are specific standards. This agreement has come at the right time especially for MARKUP beneficiaries who have been trained," said Cires.

Speaking during the closing ceremony of the over Sh5 billion project, Cires said that access to the EU market by Kenya's horticultural products has been facing challenges that could be easily overcome through such training.

Cires explained that if the skills are put into practice, individual farmers and companies will increase the country's export volumes while growing the incomes and profitability of their ventures.

"Focus of this programme has been on beans, peas, mangoes, avocados and macadamia. Farmers however have to adhere to EU standards and other certifications to benefit," said Cires.

He underscored the need for further support from other actors in the trade including a shift in transportation of the produce by sea.

"Export by sea will allow for increase in volumes thereby encourage farmers to produce more. This will lead to more benefits for everyone on the value chain," he said.

UNIDO Chief Technical Advisor Stefano Sedola noted that Kenya now has a high potential to increase its competitiveness and market access in the global horticultural sector.

"We strengthened the institutional and regulatory framework of food safety. We worked with over 1,500 farmers and exporters aiding them to increase their revenues through reduced costs and market linkages," said Sedola.

He described the first phase of the project as a success adding that in the next phase, they target to engage at least 100,000 farmers and in more counties.

"This will however require more funding hence the need for more collaborations especially with county governments. Reducing knowledge gap is key to transforming the sector," he said.

Ali Qazilbash, an international expert from UNIDO cited good agricultural practices as key enablers for farmers to easily comply with the set market standards and higher profitability.

"Clean planting materials, proper integrated pest management and use of fertilizer. With these, the farmer will be on track for good yields and quality compliant to the international markets," he said.

Qazilbash added that proper agricultural practices enhance consumers' confidence in the product boosting its competitiveness with others produced in different parts of the world.

"Consumers prefer products which they can trace their origin and when they were produced. Traceability further allows for easy follow up when there is a problem with a product for rectification," said Qazilbash.

He emphasized on the need for the farmers to prioritize meeting the local demand before going for regional and global markets saying this would go a long way in building their trade locally.

"Ensuring Kenyans are eating safe food is a first priority. It will then be a small step to accessing international markets because proof of safe food is already there," he said.

Prof Lusike Wasilwa from Kenya Agriculural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) called on farmers to use clean planting materials from trusted sources for better returns.

"Certified seeds guarantee higher germination percentage and yields. Uncertified seeds are often prone to stunted growth leading to poor production plunging farmers into heavy losses," said Prof Wasilwa.

She emphasized on the need for farmers to consult with local experts on the right varieties to plant noting that this greatly affects productivity.

"Soil type and weather greatly determine how a specific variety performs in a specific area. They should first research on the variety favoured by local conditions for maximum returns," she said.

Bernard Kiio, a mango farmer from Makueni County hailed the training programme saying that it had greatly impacted on the productivity of his farm.

"We have learnt a lot from farm practices to marketing our produce. I have managed to triple the mango production on my farm. It is no longer just farming but agribusiness," said Kiio.

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