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EU, Kenya Partner to Ship Fresh Produce by Sea Instead of Air Freight

Port of Mombasa
File image courtesy Kenya Ports Authority

Published May 22, 2023 11:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Growing concerns that horticulture exports are contributing significantly to carbon emissions have prompted Kenya to roll out plans to shift the transportation of produce to the key European market from air freight to sea freight over the next 10 years.

The East Africa nation, which is one of Africa’s leading horticulture exporters, has rolled out a program that will see at least 50 percent of produce transported by sea. The plan is led by the Netherlands and supported by Denmark and the European Union (EU).

The shift is designed not only at making transportation of Kenya’s horticulture produce sustainable by cutting down on the industry’s carbon footprint, but is also expected to drastically cut down on the cost of exports.

Consumers in Europe are on the frontline of pushing for decarbonization of the cold chain for fresh produce. Although several large companies have started using sea freight for the export of flowers, vegetables and fruits, the sector is aiming for a larger shift with shipping companies like MSC, Maersk and Hapag Lloyd positioning themselves to partner with Kenya.

Currently, over 90 percent of Kenya’s horticulture produce is transported to global markets by air, which is more expensive, more carbon intensive, and transports much less when compared to sea freight.

Studies have shown that air freight constitutes about 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions, despite ferrying just one percent of total global cargo. In contrast, sea freight produces about 2.9 percent of carbon emissions and accounts for over 80 percent of global trade by volume and 70 percent by value.

Kenya exported 390,000 tonnes of fresh horticulture produce in 2022, valued at $1 billion in 2022. Cut flowers dominate Kenya’s fresh horticultural exports, accounting for 71 percent in 2022. Kenya also exports a variety of fruits including pineapples, avocados, mangoes and bananas with Europe providing about 70 percent of the market.

“The sector is ripe for an urgent and radical transition from air to sea freight, more than ever as a step in the right direction in the clamor for climate change action. Our support is directly related to the EU Green Deal which aims, among other things, to make the economy and trade more sustainable and part of the EU Global Gateway,” said Henriette Geiger, EU ambassador to Kenya.

She added that a more sustainable export of Kenya’s horticulture goods is essential to ensure the growth of the sector in the future and all jobs and livelihoods that depend on it.

The program to shift Kenya’s horticulture exports to sea is being implemented by TradeMark East Africa, with the support from the EU being part of the Business Environment and Export Enhancement Program, a five year, $27.6 million initiative. The initiative’s overall goal is to enhance the competitiveness and raise the share of exports of Kenyan avocados, mangoes and vegetables to Europe and other international markets.

“Sea freight is viable and a win-win option for all as Kenya gears to increase its volume of exports by 50 percent by year 2030. It is a more sustainable alternative, less expensive and has an enormous carrying capacity,” said Allen Sophia Asiimwe, TradeMark Africa Deputy CEO.

Last month, MSC highlighted its desire to be a major African partner in horticulture exports by providing reliable transportation services, including advanced and modern reefer containers to maintain fruit quality for longer periods and direct service to ensure short transit times.