Kenyan farmers continue to invest heavily in food production, but a third of the produce is lost between the farm and the market, leading to food shortage amid increasing population.
Crops Development Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe agrees that most produce is lost at farm level, during transportation, at the marketplace due to poor storage facilities.
This has had a direct knock-on effect on the food import bill which has more than doubled in the last two years.
Despite increased food production in 2017 the food import bill increased to Sh245 billion from Sh100 billion the previous year.
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that global post-harvest losses which stand at 30 per cent could feed an extra 1.2 billion people and address Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 1 and 2) on hunger and poverty.
Farmers and traders continued to waste fresh produce in Laikipia and Nyandarua counties confirming challenges facing the country as farmers in Kitui, Machakos and Makueni counties are reportedly stuck with green grams owing to low market demand. The farmers are afraid they will lose the crop to the elements since they have not been able to sell due to a glut.
At the farm level Lesiyampe says farmers lack facilities which they can use to dry cereals before sale to the markets.
“The average post-harvest loss in cereals is estimated at 10 per cent, fruits at 11 per cent and vegetables at 7.85 per cent. These losses affect food availability, raw materials, income and job opportunities for Kenyan. This affects development a lot,” Lesiyampe says.
“Currently in some parts of the country and in particular Rumuruti area in Laikipia, Nyandarua, Nakuru and Narok counties, we have witnessed farmers losing tomatoes and potatoes due to poor state of the infrastructure and the absence of modern storage facilities,” he says.
Most markets lack modern systems such as cooling systems meaning they cannot guarantee longevity of the produce before sale.
Lesiyampe says while the government has acquired three potatoes cooling equipment in Murungaru, Nyandarua County and another in Narok County, the machinery are still not enough and more are required.
“We need to invest in driers for all our cereals and even as we attempt to do these, we also have a challenge where some farmers are not drying cereals saying they have a challenge of proximity to drying centres,” says the PS.
Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK) says lack of modern storage facilities like cold rooms at the various markets is causing loss of a lot of fresh produce, this makes it impossible for farmers to store produce before they are exported.
“Even after agriculture was devolved about six years ago, counties are yet to embrace the food production. This has contributed to the huge losses incurred every year. Equally farmers are still using the traditional methods to dry their food which are not effective nowadays due to the increasing effects of climate change,” says FPEAK chief executive officer Hosea Machuki.
The establishment of the county governments did not help much either and most of them are yet to allocate more resources to the sector, and are not supportive to acquisition of simple post-harvest reducing technologies.
Fish traders and farmers continue to count losses due to lack of cold chain facilities and transport truck that are well fitted with cold systems.
Both the FAO and the State agree poor coordination along the value chain has left a huge gap leading to the high levels of post harvests losses.
“Kenya produces a lot of food but it needs to get the right balance between production and demand, and how to transport food to the market in time,” said Piers Simpkin, Programme Coordinator at FAO during a regional workshop by African Union on post-harvest losses at a Nairobi hotel.
What remains after poor post-harvest losses reduces the amount of food available, which is also used as raw materials for animals, the direct knock-on effect impacts on incomes and job opportunities for Kenyans.
This comes even as the government moves to guarantee food security under the President Uhuru Kenyatta Big Four agenda whereby the State plans to reduce post-harvest losses to 15 per cent by 2022. Plans also include waiving duty on costly cereal drying equipment, hematic bags, grain silos, and feeds to minimise post-harvest losses.
National Treasury cabinet secretary Henry Rotich in the Budget Policy Statement for 2018 said Government will also transform the Strategic Food Reserve by promoting investments in post-harvest handling through public private partnerships, and by contracting farmers and other commercial off-takers.
A lot of money has been set aside to tackle the scourge too. Ten years ago, former President Mwai Kibaki administration mooted plans to construct a Sh5 billion fresh produce market in Nairobi to ease post-harvest losses. President Uhuru Kenyatta who was then the finance minister also factored resources to establish small other modern markets at all the 210 constituencies.
But lack of adequate land led to its take-off as international standards demand such a fresh produce market to sit on more than 100acres as stakeholders in the sports sector opposed establishment of the market next to Moi Sports Complex Karasani.
Food value chain players argued that if constructed the markets would be saving the country half of the total loss incurred every year and increase Kenya’s share in regional and international markets.
In the 2009/2010 budget, Kenyatta had allocated Sh2.1 billion for the construction of 210 small markets in 38 districts across the country as part of a stimulus package to boost the economy.
However, almost a decade latter, no facility has been established and no support has equally been extended to the small-scale growers to shield them against post-harvest losses.
Food value chain players are now accusing county governments of neglect of the agriculture sector by allocating more resources to other economic sectors after devolution.
“It is true the country is grappling with huge post-harvest losses which if tamed can make the country a net food producer. Our country is food insecure owing to a number of challenges. Key challenge to the same has been lack of coordination between the counties and national government and private sector,” said Mary Nzomo, the chairman of Agriculture Executives of Counties Caucus.
Nzomo says that counties are implementing various strategies ranging from training farmers on simple technologies like introducing hermetic bags, partnering with national government, private sector and academia.