Emerging concerns over increased carbon emissions and the rising cost of air freight are pushing fresh produce exporters to rely more on sea than air freight.
Shipping and logistics industry players who participated in the 2022 Fruits, Vegetable and Herbs conference held in Nairobi last week said it will be no longer tenable to export through air.
Speaking during the forum, Hosea Machuki, CEO, Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya said in the last four years, there has been continuous increase in cost of air freight caused mainly by effects of Covid-19.
He explained that many retail chain in Europe that purchase Kenyan fresh produce are insisting on Kenyan exporters using sea freight so as to cut on carbon emissions that are fueled by air transport.
“Supermarkets in Netherlands and Sweden have warned that by March 2023, they will not be buying fruits and vegetables transported by air, largely because of carbon emissions. Other supermarkets are following suit,” Mr Machuki said.
He also explained that numbers of passenger aircraft which carry about 40 per cent of our fresh produce have reduced.
“The few freighters remaining have found more lucrative business carrying medical equipment than supplies of our fresh produce. The effect of that is cost of air freight when available is expensive,” Machuki said.
For instance, he explained, initially, carrying French beans cost $1.8 (Sh220) per kilogramme before Covid hit. The cost has increased to between $2.8 (Sh330). In Europe, the debate on carbon emissions is huge as consumers become more sensitive to climate change.
Machuki explained that his lobby is working with the Kenyan government and the Dutch government through a consortium called Flying Swans to develop the railway system so that it can carry atmosphere-controlled containers to ports and eventually to sea vessels.
He said that already fruits like mangoes and avocados are transported by sea. He revealed the challenge right now is the inland port which is yet to be developed.
Machuki said 50 per cent of our flowers should be able to be transported by sea by 2030.
Though it takes vegetables 28-32 days to arrive in the European Union by sea, studies show french beans and peas are fresher compared to those transported by air.
Machuki explained the simple reason is that the cold chain system is maintained from farm, all the way into the market by sea.
But when you transport by air, there is a short window where you break the cold chain from the pack house in the airport to the air-side as you wait to load into the aircraft.
“Sometimes aircraft, especially those carrying passengers, if a passenger has a live animal, then the pilot has to set the temperature that is conducive for the live animal. That way, the temperature is not very well maintained from farm to the market,” he said.
Already, mangoes and avocadoes are transported using refrigerated containers carried by lorries. However, if the same lorries were to transport vegetables, then there is need to reduce the corrugations on the road, otherwise the quality of vegetables will be destroyed.