Kenya: Herb growers notice blow to exports due to COVID-19

For many farmers in Kenya, a bout of prolonged rain and flooding, that the East African nation has experienced since March, can wipe out a whole season of crops. But for herb grower Silas Mutuma, heavy rains often mean a year of solid profits. Mutuma, the managing director of herb exporter Jambofresh Kenya, has reaped the benefits of a thriving horticultural sector that has become a major driver of Kenya’s export revenue.

But in recent weeks, his bounty has become a burden, as measures put in place to control the spread of the novel coronavirus led international buyers to cancel orders and brought Kenya’s exports to a standstill for more than a month.

“This year, we have found ourselves in a big mess, stuck with produce that we can neither sell nor consume due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Mutuma, who grows basil, mint, thyme, chives and rosemary.

Travel restrictions around the world have crippled business for Kenya’s herb farmers, who export most of their produce. Mutuma, for example, sometimes sends 99% of a harvest overseas. A few of Kenya’s counties are in partial lockdown to curb Covid-19, while the whole country is on a dawn-to-dusk curfew.

Mutuma said all his international orders had been cancelled and he had exported nothing since March, costing him more than 500,000 Kenyan shillings ($4,700) per month.

Of Jambofresh Kenya’s more than 300 workers, all but 50 have been laid off, he added. They join the more than half a million Kenyans who have lost their jobs or been put on unpaid leave due to policies implemented to curb the spread of the virus, according to a report by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.

“It’s really a challenge now to even maintain the remaining workers, and soon we will have no choice but to relieve them of their duties as we are operating on a 100% loss,” Mutuma told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.


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