Kenya: Software to speed up EU exports

It will now take a shorter time for fresh produce from Kenya to be audited for export following the launch of a software that fast-tracks the quality testing process.

Farmforce, a product developed by the Sygenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), phases out manual farm record keeping, replacing it with an online version that can be accessed by farmers for free via an Android mobile phone.

“It hastens the process of tracking genuine fresh produce from the one that has not met the export regulations,” says Fritz Brugger, the head of agriculture services at the SFSA.

The European Union in December 2012 imposed strict testing guidelines for Kenyan fresh produce after previous shipments were found to be laced with pesticide residues above the legal limit, also known as the Maximum Residual Levels (MRL).

According to the Kenya Horticultural Exporters (KHE), the EU requires Kenya’s fresh produce to be tested at the farm instead of on transit as done previously.

But the farm testing process proved lengthy and wasteful for farmers, according to Apollo Owuor, the head of agronomy at KHE. For instance, he says, if an audit is being done on the weekly planting records at the farm, it takes more than a week to complete, not to mention the other records that must be tracked, up to the time the produce is harvested.

“The new technology reduces a pile of more than 500 kilos of information into a few grammes of system,” says Mr Owuor.

The EU testing requirements weighed heavily on Kenya, particularly because most horticulture farming is practised by smallholders.

Patrick Njoroge of Gitwamba Bidii Outgrowers Self-help Group says before the EU ban, they would export fresh produce worth more than Sh 1 million ($12,000) in a month. Presently the group can only manage Sh80,000.

“We were thirty active members but presently only about six are delivering fresh produce,” says Mr Njoroge.

He says the EU ban was a big blow because farmers have to forfeit 10 per cent of produce for testing, then wait for almost a week before results are brought back giving the go-ahead to export.

However, the new system enables a continuous process of record taking and processing from planting to harvesting, hence farmers do not have to wait for days for the post-harvest audit.

“Real time information can help strengthen internal control systems, improve compliance with food safety standards and increase transparency and traceability,” says James Onsando, the director Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service.


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