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Kenya banks on sea freight to cut fresh produce exports cost

Kenya could be in for a major win as the shift to ship fresh produce by sea gains momentum to various export markets mainly in Europe and the UK.

The country plans to move 50 per cent of horticultural exports from air to sea freight, in an ambitious seven-year plan that is aimed at cutting costs and reducing carbon footprint.


This is part of a five-year Sh3.8 billion programme being implemented by TradeMark Africa dubbed “the Business Environment and Export Enhancement Programme (BEEEP).


The Netherlands, a key export market for flowers, with support from Denmark and the European Union (EU) is leading the initiative in the programme aimed at driving the country’s shift to green and sustainable transportation of horticultural exports.


Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya projects the move will cut freight costs by between 40-50 per cent , compared to what exporters are spending on air.


Air freight rates range between $4.50 (Sh618.75) and $6 (Sh825.00 ) per kilo, depending on the various operators at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).


This means sea freight could cost about $4 (Sh550) per kilo of cargo.


“Sea freight will also enable us move more volumes and meet the expectations of the consumers in Europe who have become more sensitive on carbon emissions,” FPC Kenya chief executive Okisegere Ojepat told the Star.


He, however said, more needs to be done to ensure seamless shipments without compromising the quality of goods.


Two shipping lines– French container transportation and shipping company CMA CGM Group and Danish shipping and logistics company, Maersk, are the current movers with more expected to join the trade.


Maersk has has since affirmed its commitment to meet market expectations.


"Spoilage rates for ocean shipments on our vessels, for example, are around two-three 2-3 per cent which is similar to air freight. So, having the sea as a more cost-effective means to get flowers to market makes Kenya more competitive as a flower-growing hub,” Maersk notes.


It takes between 28 and 35 days to reach markets in Europe, which accounts for about 70 per cent of Kenya’s cut flower exports.


The shift is expected to enhance the competitiveness and raise the share of exports of Kenyan avocados, mangoes, and vegetables to Europe and other international markets.

Part of the implementation initiatives will focus on resolving production, storage, logistics and value addition challenges that the horticultural sector faces.


Last year, the value of horticulture exports decreased to Sh146.1 billion from Sh157.7 billion in 2021, the Economic Survey 2023 indicates.


“This is explained by low demand for cut flowers and vegetables in the international market during the year under review,” Kenya National Bureau of Statistics notes.


Sea transport is also seen as a move to help cut carbon emissions.


While air freight remains a faster mode of shipment of goods, it is more expensive and still detrimental to the environment, even as it transports less volumes and value compared to sea freight.


Studies show that air freight constitutes about 2.5 per cent of global carbon emissions, despite ferrying just one per cent of total global cargo.


In contrast, sea freight produces about 2.9 per cent of carbon emissions and accounts for over 80 per cent of global trade by volume and 70 per cent by value.


This makes it a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative in the race for decarbonisation.


Consumers especially in Europe, are on the frontline of the push for a radical decarbonisation of value chains that deliver fresh produce to their supermarket shelves and dining tables.


“The transition from air freight to sea freight will have to go hand in hand with the private sector. It is important to create export volumes, optimize systems and foster innovations in port development,” Netherlands Ambassador to Kenya Maarten Brouwer said on Wednesday during a tour of Mombasa port.


TradeMark Africa deputy CEO Allen Asiimwe termed sea freight as a viable and a win-win option for all, as Kenya gears to increase its volume of exports by 50 per cent by year 2030.


“We are working closely with our development partners and private sector players to establish digital corridors to enhance market access, increase transparency and traceability of Kenya’s horticultural produce in the destination markets,” she said.


The push for sustainable transportation comes not just from the EU, which is one of Kenya’s major export destinations, but also other major global actors and industry players.


European Union Ambassador Henriette Geiger said: “The sector is ripe for an urgent and radical transition from air to sea freight, more than ever as a step in the right direction in the clamour for climate change action.”


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