Kenya: fresh produce left to waste in farms over standoff with airline

A government policy that favors struggling national carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) against its cheaper competitors to transport fresh produce to other countries continues to hurt other exporters.

Exporters have complained about the lack of capacity on KQ to ferry their produce and the airline's expensive airfreight charges. They now fear they could be forced to throw away half of their produce due to the logistical challenges in the coming days.

Farmers lament that about a quarter of their produce is rotting on farms because of KQ's inability to ferry goods per local demand, with the flower industry saying it is losing Sh4 billion monthly, losses farmers fear could double in the coming days if there is no intervention.

KQ said it had ferried about 25,000 tonnes of fresh produce (flowers, fruits, and vegetables combined) this year, indicating that its capacity over the 11 months falls short by more than half of the current 5,000-tonne weekly demand.

The 25,000 tonnes also represent an average of 2,272 tonnes every month and 568 tonnes weekly over the 11 months, a figure almost nine times lower compared with current demand.

While exporters also complain that KQ has increased airfreight charges to transport produce from Nairobi to Europe by 73% from $1.5 to $2.6 per kilo (Sh168 to Sh291), raising their costs and reducing their profit margins, the airline said it had only increased freight rates by 15%.

Fresh produce and flower exporters are facing logistical problems at the worst of times - peak season for the sector, with huge demand in Europe and other overseas markets. The horticulture sector is one of Kenya's biggest foreign exchange earners, bringing in over Sh600 billion over the past five years.

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