Export commodities such as coffee, tea, sisal, cotton, pyrethrum and horticulture produce are Kenya’s key sources of foreign exchange. Highly regarded in the international market, the commodities are key in deepening rural development and wealth creation among farmers. However, performance dipped following imposition of external conditions –Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the early 1980s, followed by poor management. Our writer NICHOLAS WAITATHU engaged the Agriculture and Food Authority acting Director General ANTHONY MURITHIIon what the Government is doing to restore the sub-sector. Experts:
Question: Explain the current performance of export commodities – coffee, tea, sisal, cotton, pyrethrum and horticulture products – compared to the last three decades.
Answer: Different crops have undergone unique growth trends, opportunities and challenges. Others have recorded phenomenal growth in production, while some have registered a worrying decline.
Reasons for growth/decline can be attributed to a combination of factors, both global and local.
Tea and horticulture have maintained an upward growth trajectory over the years, while coffee, pyrethrum and cotton have experienced significant decline.
Q: Do these commodities still enjoy a good reputation in the global market amid declining production and climate change shocks?
A: Despite the decline in production, Kenyan coffee is highly sought after in the global market on the account of its quality.
The challenges that the sub-sector has faced are mainly local, including poor governance in the value chain. It is these challenges that are being addressed through the ongoing reform process.
Q: Do you think Kenya can reclaim its lost glory?
A: For the coffee industry, the strategy is not just focused on increasing production.
It also means pursuing a winning strategy which is to carefully define the target market and direct a superior offering to that target market.
Kenya as a country has identified and segmented certain niche markets such as the specialty markets (USA & Canada) where Kenyan quality coffee is earning premium prices.
Organic coffees and Naturals are also some of the niche markets of which the Authority are exploiting the marketing opportunities offered by tastes and preferences of our quality conscious clients.
We want to get back on satisfying the market with volumes but also offering high quality coffee to the target markets whose return is not merely based on quantity alone but also on quality, tastes and preferences.
Q: A key challenge affecting farmers over the years has been low and fluctuating prices.
A: There are several factors responsible for low coffee prices. The current Covid-19 pandemic is a global phenomenon which has affected the demand of coffee worldwide owing to World Health Orgnaisation health requirement measures to contain the spread of Corona virus.
Therefore, some of the present decisions the Authority has made to deal with the future price fluctuations includes exploiting the domestic market through promotion of domestic coffee consumption, development of a strategy for domestic coffee consumption. Farmers will benefit when value addition is enhanced and the domestic market offers a reliable market.
Further, the growth of Specialty Coffee niche markets such as the US is expected to improve earnings to growers and other players in the value chain.
Q: Government has set up reform startegies in the sub-sectors but the same has not yielded much outcomes. Why?
A: The reform process in the agriculture sector, particularly the crops sub-sectors, gained momentum recently.
Prior to the current process of the draft bills, there was the process of drawing new regulations following establishment of AFA in 2014.
In view of the fact that agriculture is a devolved function, with the county governments and the national government sharing responsibilities as per Schedule IV of the Constitution of Kenya, it was necessary that the proposed regulations are agreed upon by both levels of government before they can be operationalized.
But more comprehensive reforms are now on course through draft bills that have been drawn for the respective value chains.
One of the key ingredients of the reform process for the respective crops value chains is marketing and promotion of the whole range of fresh produce and processed products in the international market.
Q: Any specific future plan for the agriculture sector?
The sector has the potential to increase farmers’ incomes, export earnings, promote industrialisation and spur economic growth in Kenya as envisaged in the Kenya Vision 2030 and Big 4 Agenda.
We will also pay attention on the market access requirements as well as food safety in the domestic market with a view to enhancing consumer health.
Further, we will anchor our initiatives on innovative technology with a view to enhancing ease of doing business, reducing costs and building transparency and accountability in the crops value chains.