Kenya is in talks with 12 airlines to complement the efforts of its national carrier, Kenya Airways, to keep horticulture exports business alive amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Transport Cabinet Secretary, James Macharia, did not name the airlines involved or mention the stage the discussions have reached.
According to Macharia, the move will ensure about 350,000 jobs in the flower and fresh produce sectors are sustained during this challenging economic period.
In March, the horticulture sector recorded a KSh8 billion ($75.4 million) net loss due to the adverse effects of COVID-19. The flower industry, in particular, was the hardest hit following the closure of the Dutch auction and suspension of exports to the EU, which is its largest market.
However, even as demand started to rise in April in anticipation of Mothers’ Day, the sector suffered from a lack of freight services. According to Hosea Machuki, head of the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya, freight operators tripled the price per kilo of produce to $3 in the two weeks to end of March, making it too expensive for exporters.
Early this month, the reopening of the Dutch Auction and a number of other European supermarkets saw the flower industry bounce back to business, with an increase in cargo flights by Kenya Airways, seeing farmers increase their flower shipments to Europe by 50%.
The flower industry is among Kenya’s largest foreign exchange-earners. Kenya is the world’s 4th largest flower exporter. It has created jobs for close to 150,000 people. In 2018 alone, cut flowers earned the country KSh113 billion.
Horticulture exports earnings are the third-largest contributors of foreign exchange in Kenya, after diaspora remittances and income from tourism.