Kenya prepares small farmers to reach Europe

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Kenya prepares small farmers to reach Europe

Throughout 2014, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) will continue to analyze and test fresh produce for pesticide residue to help producers understand and comply with food safety requirements for the European market. A lead kenyabananasKEPHIS scientist spoke with about the behind-the-scenes work to monitor chemical residue limits on fresh produce in farming regions all over the country.

KEPHIS aids Kenyan farmers in reaching demanding markets such as Europe by gathering data, collecting samples and testing fresh produce. Greater phytosanitary focus has come following concerns about the rising number of past notifications from fresh produce not meeting strict EU regulations.

For a developing country like Kenya to maintain export deals within the EU and other markets, food safety regulations and legislation must be taken seriously at all times, explained Lucy Namu, KEPHIS principal analytical chemist.

"Within the context of the implementation of the food law and the EU regulations surrounding this, Kenya was under the spotlight, so we started to do much work in this direction," she said.

"There have been many changes in EU regulation and legislation around the use of pesticides and also the requirements for official controls. Kenya is a struggling and developing country with a large small-scale farmer base that works really hard to export.

"We have been working through the whole jungle of understanding EU bureaucracy which has been most frustrating. This is something that I do day-to-day. Trying to understand what is required to comply can be very challenging."

In 2012, Namu said KEPHIS began to get word that certain Kenyan producers were getting too many pesticide detections in the EU, sparking concern and talk about how to tackle residue levels.

"Toward the end of 2012 we got information that we were going to put be on the increased controls list and probably be under closer scrutiny. So our export commodities that are of really great benefit to small holders are all under scrutiny before they enter the market," Namu said.

"Once you lose the market, it is very hard to get it back, so ultimately you have to work hard and continue to engage to find out what the market wants and how to get out of this nasty list. Ever since last January, it has been an uphill task and we’re struggling to just keep afloat. It is very challenging but we are making very good progress."

This concern has translated into extra work to support small holder farmers and inform them of the standards they must strive for.

"Going forward, much has happened and we are diverting a lot of our work into trying to support small holders to ensure they can improve practices and improve compliance and meet all requirements so that we can move towards normal notifications," Namu said.

Testing, analysis, investigation and training

Teams of KEPHIS representatives go out into the field, farms, markets, supermarkets and export points to take samples and test for various chemical residue limits. If fresh produce is found to be non-compliant, the agency steps in.

In many situations, violations have been cases of ignorance more than anything else, Namu explained.

"If we take samples and find there is a problem, we go back and carry out an investigation into what led to the problem and tell the farmer that they are required to take part in the training program," she said.

"As part of a government commitment, we will continue with our training program for some time to come. We've been testing pesticide residue monitoring and now we are investing in training small holders, especially those we perceive as high risk, and we are improving control systems all of the time in terms of registrations and certifications of schemes, as well as looking at who is operating in the export business."

A major part of the service's goal is to make growers understand that individual violations can mean greater consequences for the entire country.

What is the reaction from farmers?

Scores of farmers are already putting into use the best practices learned from KEPHIS educational programs and many more will go through the schemes throughout 2014 and beyond.

Educating farmers does not come without its challenges but Namu insists people are willing to learn and change.

"The farmers are very cooperative; we don’t have a problem with that because before now they didn’t really understand how their ignorance, lack of knowledge or their inappropriate action could have such an impact on the market," Namu said.

"So now they are very keen because they know that analysis can reveal whether they are compliant or not. They most certainly want to come on the training programs."

However, funding is an issue for KEPHIS and budget constraints are extremely tight for overseeing such a huge phytosanitary task.

"With such a volume of work to be done, the budgets are not becoming any larger. It's an uphill task but we will continue with our important work. All of this does not come without a commitment to invest in the infrastructure that is required," Namu said.

"The positive side of things is that from this year, we have seen a reduction in the number of notifications coming through, which means the impact and understanding of 'if I don’t comply, then I will get caught,' is actually there now, as well as a deeper understanding amongst farmers that they are competing against producers in other countries such as Guatemala and Egypt."

Photo: A Kenyan farmer delivers fruit to market, by Neil Palmer of CIAT


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