Mwangi Mumero reports from the 10th Navaisha Horticultural Fair in Kenya
With exports currently valued at US$640 million, the Kenya horticultural sub-sector has continued to attract investors and service providers in the last couple of years.
The sub-sector now employs about 4.4mn people in the country directly in production, processing and marketing, while another 3.5mn benefit indirectly from horticulture.
It is a major contributor to the nation’s GDP, third only to tourism and tea on the list of biggest contributors to the economy.
Horticulture is big business with many trade and business fairs catering for the sub-sector taking place across the East African region.
The recent Naivasha Horticulture Fair attracted more the 250 exhibitors, 50 of which were multinationals in the flower, vegetable and fruit industries.
Exhibitors included flower breeders, marketing firms, transportation and logistics companies and service providers.
Most of the flowers exported to the European Union originate from the Naivasha region in the Rift Valley, which is 80 km from Nairobi and known for its saline lake which provides most of the irrigation water used by the flower farms.
“The horticulture industry continues to contribute to the Kenya economy through the generation of income, creation of employment opportunities for rural people and foreign exchange earnings in addition to providing raw materials to the agro processing industry”, said Joram Kiarie, Kenya Commercial Bank director of mortgage business and one of the guests at the two-day event.
Currently on its 10th year, the Naivasha Fair has been sponsored by the Kenya Commercial Bank for the past three years.
“As a leading financier of agribusiness in the region, the KCB Group has invested Ksh12mn (US$140,000) in the fair over the period”, Kiarie said during the opening ceremony, which was also attended by Kenya’s Agriculture minister, Dr Sally Kosgei.
According to Dr Kosgei, the Naivasha Horticultural Fair is a ‘one-stop shop’ that brings together all industry stakeholders to showcase their products and services and discuss how to move the sub-sector forward.
“As the government, we have received complains from producers on the slow pace of VAT refund and we are working closely with the ministry of finance to streamline the payments,” said Kosgei regarding the government’s incentives to enable farmers to boost production.
“We have also removed tax on farm inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides to increase access to farmers and also reduce production costs.”
Kosgei added that the government has worked closely with large scale and small scale horticulture producers to smoothen their operations by removing obstacles.
“The horticulture industry is in private hands and the only thing the government can do is to create an enabling business environment for the private sector to achieve their targets,” she said.
Exhibitors interviewed by African Farming felt that the fair provided a good opportunity to interact with farmers, breeders and service providers.
It is also provided a forum for new business contacts to be made and business relationships forged.
“The fair has provided us with a platform to show case our irrigation kits and other farm technologies from the smallholder to large scale horticulture farmers,” said Yariv Kedar, the deputy managing director of Amiran Kenya Ltd.
“We have been able to interact closely with the consumers of our products and services.”
In the last decade, Amiran has pioneered the introduction of affordable irrigation technologies that have seen smallholder farmers initiate green house project for the production of vegetables such as onions, cabbages, tomatoes and capsicum.
The company has rolled out an irrigation kit suitable for schools colleges, and even for small scale farmers.
“A minimum land requirement is an eighth of an acre,” said Kedar. “At affordable prices, the schools can access a greenhouse, collapsible tank, drip lines, agro-chemicals, fertilisers and a spray pump.
“We also offer protective gear and formal training for at least three persons in a school on irrigation techniques.”
Depending on the size of greenhouse, prices vary. A 15 by eight metre greenhouse retails at Ksh177,000 ($1,770) while a bigger one of 24 by eight metres costs Ksh240,000 ($ 2,400).
According to Kedar, the company offers training and extension services to buyers of their products for over two years.
Information technology was also well represented the fair as companies showcased solutions for horticultural farmers.
“With this mapping software, a farmer will be able to identify parts of land according to the yields obtained from that section,” said Khurram Mohamed, the precision sales engineer with Crop Nutrition Laboratories.
“This will enable the farmer to evaluate how their piece of land yielded – where most grain was harvested and where the least produce was obtained.”
He was showing farmers new software - known as Farmworks - that can map a piece of land on their yield production capability.
Mounted on a combine harvester, the device collects data using GSM and then transmits it to a nearby laptop for interpretation which is displayed in the form of a shaded colour map.
“With this information the farmer may decide to add more manure or fertiliser on the poor yielding areas, may change farm practices such as ploughing or may decide to introduce new crops to boost soil fertility”, said Mohammed.
Another company Two Way Communications was showcasing new communication gadgets.
“Communication within the flower farms mainly on operations and security are a must for any grower,” said Stephen Ndung’u, the technical sales officer with the firm as he explained to farmers on their latest products. “Over 99 per cent of the flower farms are users of our products.”
Farmers attending the fair also had the opportunity to learn new farming technologies and skills.
“We always come to this show to seek new ideas,” said David Kibyego, a smallholder farmer from Kericho County, which is located about 150 km from Naivasha.
“As a small-scale farmer, it is important we keep up with the trend in the horticultural industry so that we are abreast with emerging issues in the sub-sector.”
Like many farmers in his region, Kibyego grows cabbages, kales and tomatoes on his five acre piece of land that overlooks the Mau Escarpment.
“I have acquired an irrigation kit and I plan to expand my horticultural enterprise in the coming years,” he said. “I have to learn to be better informed of new ideas.”
Smallholder farmers have been credited with producing most of the vegetables and fruits consumed in the country over the past decade.