Securing Kenya’s food supply has emerged as an imperative in the current global pandemic, prompting government announcements of measures to prioritise the supply of food. But as the nation reels economically from the current coronavirus measures, other nations, too, are reporting looming food shortages. Shortages which are so serious that Europe has now loosened its import requirements on fresh fruit and vegetables in order to draw more supplies.
For Kenya, as the biggest horticultural exporter in Africa, this move by Europe to open its import door wider represents a rallying call. For most of the agricultural production in recent weeks has been grounded on transport, and now there is a way forward.
Since the world’s countries moved progressively into public closure, and passenger flights stopped, Kenya’s volume of available air cargo has plummeted. There used to be six airlines taking cargo-only flights out of Nairobi, some, such as Cargolux, carrying 120 tonnes of produce on every flight; some, such as Lufthansa and AirFrance, running daily cargo-only flights.
Together, those flights accounted for about 60 per cent of our air cargo, while cargo carried in the bellies of passenger flights accounted for another 40 per cent. That 40 per cent has stopped, but so too have the majority of cargo flights. Where there were cargo flights coming in and out that could carry 1400 tonnes a week, there is now only enough to transport just 360 tonnes.
A big factor in this is South Africa. Most of these flights used to head to South Africa full of cargo from Europe, then stop at Nairobi on the way back to fill up with fresh produce for the return leg. But South Africa is now detaining cargo crew for 21 days as soon as they land, meaning firms can only fly out to Kenya empty. Some, like CargoLux, have just stopped. Others have reduced the number of cargo flights each week.