How COVID-19 Lockdowns Affect Kenyan Farmers

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SEATTLE, Washington — Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenyan herb farmers have suffered heavy economic losses due to the worldwide COVID-19 lockdowns, even with a season of downpours bringing about bountiful harvests this year.

The Horticultural Industry in Kenya

While COVID-19’s economic impacts have been felt in most of the world’s industries, the worldwide lockdowns have severely affected Kenyan herb farms. The nation’s agricultural sector is a significant contributor to the national economy, with the total value of exports in 2019 being $1.37 billion. Therefore, when many European borders closed due to COVID-19 lockdowns, many Kenyan exporters lost access to an indispensable consumer base. Produce exports have been down by roughly 70%, a number which doesn’t account for thousands of small farmers who sell to unofficial markets. Additionally, many Kenyan farmers could not transport their produce to Nairobi, Kenya, under the strict curfew and travel ban that was extended for another 30 days on June 6. According to COLEACP, an international civil society organization, Kenya’s agricultural industry suffers a loss of roughly $3 million every day. Consequently, the economic impact of the worldwide COVID-19 lockdowns on Kenya has herb farmers rushing to find new ways to generate earnings in local markets.

Kenyan Workers Impacted By COVID-19

An herb farmer and exporter, Jambofresh Kenya’s managing director Silas Mutuma said, “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.” Due to worldwide travel bans and restrictions, all of Jambofresh Kenya’s international export orders were refused. Mutuma, who exports 99% of a given harvest at times, has lost more than $4,700 per month due to canceled intercontinental exports.

In consequence, more than 250 people of Jambofresh Kenya’s workforce have been let go. Mutuma claims that Jambofresh Kenya will have no option but to lay off the 50 remaining workers since the it is working with a 100% loss.

More than 500,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequential lockdowns.

AAA Growers Limited, the third biggest exporter in Kenya, has also felt the economic impacts of the worldwide COVID-19 lockdowns. From worker dismissals to decaying products, the large exporter’s experience is not uncommon. The company was exporting about 1.4 million of weekly product pre-lockdown. Yet, when expansive markets were no longer available because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the volume of exports reduced to practically none. Frank Obure, the general manager of AAA Growers Ltd., evaluates total losses are at least 70%, with the majority of harvests being tossed away.

Moreover, Dionysious Wahome, a produce manager at AdaFresh, a company that sells produce internationally to restaurants and supermarkets, explained, “We are basically trying to sustain our growers with the few orders we get from some restaurants.”

According to Okisegere Ojepat, the chief executive officer of the Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya, it all boils down to whether growers have contracts with clients. The farmers who were affected the most by the economic impact of COVID-19 depend on brokers to buy their produce. “Some avocado and macadamia farmers, for example, tend to grow their produce without a contract [and]that is making them suffer the most during this pandemic as the brokers are not coming,” Ojepat explained.

The Good News

As restrictions gradually relax in Europe, and more Kenyan airliners are transformed into cargo planes, the volume of exports will rise. Although the situation continues to improve, shipping rates are “more than double previous rates.” Subsequently, companies are continuing their efforts to boost local sales to offset declining international sales. AAA Growers Ltd., for example, is selling more produce to supermarkets in Nairobi. By selling to local Quick Mart, KFC, and others, AAA Growers is selling about 12 tons of produce locally weekly.

Furthermore, a local food distribution company, Twiga Foods, launched an e-commerce initiative. By partnering with Jumia, an online logistics service, Twiga Foods can provide wealthier Kenyans with the option of having products delivered directly to their homes. “We’d been thinking about the idea, and we were starting to see more home deliveries [due to COVID-19],” said CEO Peter Njongo of Twiga Foods.

The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Kenyan farmers have been incredibly challenging. Still, the country’s ability to adapt and endure has allowed local herb farmers to diversify their revenue streams. Moreover, the pandemic consequences in Kenya have revealed the importance of horticulturists having a local customer base.

-Carlos Williams
Photo: Flickr

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