Horticulture contributes around 36% of Kenya’s agricultural GDP, with the sector employing 6m Kenyans and showing strong annual growth. Kenya is a major global market for value-added mixed vegetable packs sold in European supermarkets, and the third-largest flower exporter globally after Colombia and Ecuador, driving horticulture to become one of the largest export earners in the country after tea and tourism.
Horticulture in Kenya is overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. Agencies involved in the segment include the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), the Kenya Horticulture Council, the Kenya Flower Council and the Kenya Horticultural Crops Development Authority ( KHCDA). The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service is mandated to carry out analysis and testing of produce.
FPEAK reports that Kenyan horticulture is dominated by the private sector, incorporating both large- and small-scale farmers and exporters, with the government providing policy. Notable private FPEAK partners include the Dubai Flower Market, the Dutch Flowers Auction Association and the Europe-Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Liaison Committee, while multinationals including Del Monte, the UK’s VP Group (formerly Vegpro) and Nestlé Foods Kenya have made a major impact on export activities. VP Group’s subsidiary, VP Food, for example, is the largest producer and exporter of fresh produce from the country, owning six estate farms and managing 1700 smallholder farmers. Del Monte Kenya has led Kenya to become one of the world’s top-five pineapple producers, employing around 6000 people producing canned solid pineapple, juice concentrates, mill juice sugar and cattle feed. “Horticulture is one of the few private sector-driven success stories in Africa, and it still has big growth potential. Companies can invest, they have invested and they know what they’re doing. There’s a good deal of confidence in the market,” Steve New, the project director at the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprises Project (KAVES), told OBG.
Major horticultural regions are located in southern and central Kenya, where the equatorial climate allows year-round production. “Floriculture is very capital-intensive, costing upwards of $200,000 per ha to invest in roses, but the returns are large. Depending on the type of rose, you can grow 200-300 roses per square metre per year, each selling for €0.15-0.35. No one can compete with Kenya in roses, and we are still seeing new investors,” New told OBG. All three sub-segments of horticulture are well-represented within Kenya. The country’s main export flowers include roses, carnations, statice, alstroemeria and summer flowers, while the fruit segment is dominated by mangoes, avocadoes, passion fruit and pineapple. Within the vegetables segment, the country’s French beans, snow peas, aubergine, baby corn, spinach and carrots are in high demand across Europe, the US and Asia. The EU is the principal importer of Kenya’s fresh produce, and the Netherlands imports the bulk of Kenya’s flowers for sale through an auction system, while Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and France are the major importers of fruits and vegetables. “Kenya is a major market in key year-round vegetables, and Kenyan exporters supply most of the value-added mixed-vegetable packs to European markets. Over 70% of products come from small-scale farmers because this represents the most cost-effective option. These are also highly labour-intensive crops; you need 20 people per ha to cultivate them properly. So if farmers can sell their labour and farm on the side, it can become a much more viable livelihood, creating both employment and income,” according to New.
According to the KHCDA’s 2012 annual report, the total domestic value of the horticulture sector reached KSh217bn ($2.47bn), a 6% increase over 2011, with 662,835 ha of land under cultivation, 9% growth over 2011, and total production of 12.6m tonnes, an increase of 38% over 2011. The KHCDA attributed this to favourable weather conditions in horticulture production areas, with bananas and potatoes contributing the most to 2012’s growth. Vegetables comprised 48% of total production, while fruits accounted for 28%, flowers 18% and nuts 3%, with the remaining 2% supplied by medicinal and aromatic plants.
According to the KHCDA, in 2012 fruit contributed KSh61.5bn ($699.26m), accounting for 22% of the total domestic value of horticultural produce, while vegetables contributed 38% of total value, with KSh91.3bn ($1.04bn) produced. The floriculture sector contributed 18%, or KSh39.7bn ($452.58m), to the total value of horticulture in 2012. Data from the KHCDA shows the country exported 105.53m kg of flowers, 31.1m kg of fruit and 77.17m kg of vegetables in 2013, for total export production of 213.8m kg in 2013, a 3.9% increase over the 205.73m kg of exports reported in 2012. At the same time, however, the KHCDA reported that horticultural export earnings dropped from KSh87.71bn ($999.89m) in 2012 to KSh83.81bn ($955.43m) in 2013, following a similar 11% earnings drop in 2011.
The vegetables segment, for example, saw its total amount of land under cultivation expand by 9% to 287,000 ha in 2012, and boosted production by 13% in the same year to 5.3m tonnes, but its total value fell 4% to $1.04bn. While the KHCDA notes that favourable weather conditions have increased yields, the drop in value of commodities including tomatoes, kale and carrots has been attributed to a lack of access to quality seeds and value-adding technologies, as well as high post-harvest losses. “The government has not necessarily done well in creating access to inputs, including seed, fertiliser and know-how. Farmers in remote areas are facing serious logistical problems, and crops are often unable to make it to the market in time, or else storage facilities are insufficient, so they lose their harvest. The only option for many of these farmers is to work with predatory brokers who pay a low price,” Alex Bezborodov, head of product development at social enterprise Honeycare Africa, told OBG.
The government plans to roll out a Fertiliser Seed Fund aimed at improving delivery to remote locations, allocating KSh3bn ($34.2m) to deliver 180,000 tonnes of fertiliser in 2014, according to the state-run Kenya News Agency.
Increasing the overall competitiveness of the sector has also been an aim of a far-reaching project run by USAID, which launched the Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project partnership with FPEAK in May 2014. The $32m project will introduce new seed varieties and farming techniques with the aim of improving yields and boosting smallholder farm incomes. USAID has also funded the $40m KAVES project, which is running until 2018 and aims to commercialise 500,000 smallholder farms, increasing productivity and incomes within the crops, dairy and horticultural value chains. The Kenya Agricultural Productivity and Agribusiness Project, a productivity programme financed by World Bank and run by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, intends to transform smallholder production and marketing systems to boost productivity and incomes.