Kenya At Risk Of Losing EU Market For Peas, Beans Due To Falling Standards

Peas and beans in pods (unshelled) from Kenya will continue to be subjected to strict sanitary and phytosanitary controls before entering the European market, following a rise in cases of contaminated produce last year.

A worker at the Horticulture Crops Development Authority depot weighs snow peas for sale in the local and international market. PHOTO | FILE

A worker at the Horticulture Crops Development Authority depot weighs snow peas for sale in the local and international market. PHOTO | FILE

The European Union mission in Kenya confirmed that in the past month, interceptions were made of peas and beans exceeding the maximum residue levels (MRLs). This means that the chemical levels, mainly of pesticides, found in the two export products did not fall within the European legal limit.

“There have been new interceptions of products exceeding the MRLs over the past months. It is my hope stakeholders will see the urgency of the situation and take corrective action before it is too late,” said Christophe De Vroey, the trade and communication counsellor at the EU mission in Kenya.

The EU has come up with a list of commodities, based on the risk they pose to human health and the environment, that are subjected to strict official controls at the trade bloc’s points of entry. Unshelled peas and beans make that list.

According to data from the European Food Safety Commission, 45 consignments of contaminated fresh produce sourced from Kenya were intercepted in the four months to April last year. This was up from 41 consignments captured in the same period the previous year, a trend analysts warned could ruin Kenya’s market share in the EU.

In October and November last year, the number of rejected consignments had almost been eliminated, but started to increase in December.

Unshelled peas and beans constitute an important part of Kenya’s horticultural exports to the EU along with cut flowers, fruits and other vegetables. The horticultural sector is one of the fastest growing agricultural sub-sectors in the country, and contributes heavily to the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, fruit exports grew by 38.7 per cent in value last year compared with the same period in 2013, earning the country $46.2 million. Vegetables saw a 10 per cent decline in sales, with the tonnage dropping from 57,000 to 51,351 — a trend attributed to tough EU sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

As at May last year, earnings from horticulture fell from $393.6 million to $383.6 million, due to erratic weather and the delay in signing the Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and the East African Community. The delay resulted in the transfer of Kenya’s horticulture exports from duty-free regime of the Market Access Regulation to the Generalised System of Preferences regime, which attracted taxes, making the exports uncompetitive.

However, the two economic blocs later reached an agreement paving the way for the reinstatement of Kenya’s exports to the duty-free regime.

Mr De Vroey said the decisions on listing — under Regulation EC No 669/2009 — are taken by the EU Standing Committee on Pesticide Residues.

“Listing [of high-risk produce] was last discussed at the January meeting of the working group, and some member states, including the UK, called for the delisting of Kenyan peas and beans. The majority, however, decided to take a more cautious approach, so Kenyan peas and beans remain on Annex I with an unchanged sampling frequency,” said the EU official.

However, in the recent past Kenya has been working closely with the EU to ensure the country’s exports meet the required standards after the latter cautioned the former over the increasing number of rejections as a result of the fruit fly and use of harmful chemicals on the crops.

As a result, there is a ray of hope for Kenya, since the EU is currently waiting for the full Quarter 4 figures for last year, before making a final decision on whether to delist the two products.

“This decision may be taken soon enough and delisting is, therefore, possible within the weeks to come,” said Mr De Vroey.

But the chief executive officer of the Kenya Flower Council, Jane Ngige, expressed confidence that the country will receive a clean bill, saying a team from the EU that visited the country recently had expressed satisfaction with the measures put in place by both the government and the private sector.

“Kenya has put in place an action plan [submitted by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service-Kephis] and we believe that the EU is satisfied with it. We trust that the vetting will soon be lifted,” said Ms Ngige.

Kephis has in the past complained about farmers and exporters re-exporting produce that has already been rejected. According to the organisation, if farmers and exporters adhered to the existing rules, the percentage of exports vetted could drop from 10 per cent to two per cent or less.

In fact, the quantity of exports to be vetted was raised from 2 per cent to 10 per cent in 2010. This was after the EU reported an increase in the number of interceptions of beans and peas in pods from Kenya exceeding the pesticide MRL exceedances between 2008 and 2012.

As a result, in January 2013, Kenya was listed under the regulations, meaning that its unshelled beans and peas were to be subjected to thorough testing at EU’s points of entry at a level of 10 per cent.

Mr De Vroey said the regulation will still apply for Kenya, until such a time as the EU is satisfied with the progress made by the government and the private sector involved in horticulture.

The EU has so far provided $1.92 million to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service to enable it to acquire modern laboratory equipment for conducting proper analyses.

“The amount is a fraction of the funding being provided under the Standards and Market Access Program (SMAP), which totals to $12.8 million,” said Mr De Vroey.

In addition, Kephis has received a grant of about $1.07 million for training, workshops and accreditation to other reference laboratories.

– The EastAfrican