The Netherlands, supported by Denmark and the European Union (EU), TradeMark Africa (TMA), and the Kenyan government and private sector, have set in motion plans to drive the green transportation of Kenyan horticultural exports.
Successful implementation will enable Kenya not only to increase its share but also to shift to exporting half of its horticultural produce from air to sea freight in the next 10 years.
This will reduce both the carbon footprint and the cost of exports.
Several larger companies have already started to use sea freight to export flowers, vegetables, and fruits, but the sector is now aiming for a transformative and larger shift.
Horticulture is one of the leading export earners for the East-African market leader and generated 152.3 billion Kenyean shillings (Ksh) in earnings in 2022.
A meeting at the Port of Mombasa last week marked the official start of engagements to map out pathways towards moving more of these horticultural exports by sea.
Kenya's cabinet secretary for mining, blue economy, and maritime affairs, Salim Mvurya, representatives from the Ministry of Roads and Transport, ambassadors from EU member states in Kenya, TMA country director Ahmed Farah, and deputy CEO Allen Sophia Asiimwe attended the meeting, where it was highlighted that the shift would allay growing concerns about air freight's carbon footprint.
The push for sustainable transportation comes from the EU, one of Kenya's major export destinations, as well as from major global stakeholders.
Consumers, especially in Europe, are at the forefront of the push for the radical decarbonisation of supermarket fresh produce value chains.
"The transition from air freight to sea freight will have to go hand in hand with the private sector,” said the Dutch ambassador to Kenya, Maarten Brouwer.
“It is important to create export volumes, optimise systems, and foster innovations in port development.”
The Netherlands also announced a trade mission to Mombasa and its port in September 2023.
Denmark's ambassador to Kenya, Ole Thonke, said the transition benefited both countries.
"We look very much forward to active participation first in the mapping of the opportunities, engaging the private sector in Kenya as well as in Denmark, and later to contributing to the implementation of the transformation," Thonke said.
EU ambassador Henriette Geiger said the sector was "ripe for an urgent and radical transition from air to sea freight" to confront climate change.
"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.
“A more sustainable export of Kenya's horticultural goods is essential to ensure the growth of the sector in the future and all jobs and livelihoods that depend on it," Geiger said.
The EU support is part of the Business Environment and Export Enhancement Programme (BEEEP), a five-year Ksh 3.8 billion programme implemented by TMA.
The programme aims to enhance competitiveness and raise the share of Kenyan avocado pear, mango, and vegetable exports to Europe and other international markets.
Implementation initiatives will focus on resolving production, storage, logistics, and value addition challenges that the horticultural sector faces.
Other interventions include improving the efficiency and environmental sustainability of transport infrastructure to reduce trade costs and time, modernising and harmonising trade processes and procedures, improving access to quality standards and phytosanitary measures, streamlining trade agreements, and supporting the implementation of business reforms.
Asiimwe said sea freight is a viable "win-win option" as Kenya gears up to increase its export volumes by 50% by 2030.
"It is a more sustainable alternative, less expensive, and has an enormous carrying capacity.
“As TradeMark Africa, we are working closely with our development partners and private sector players to establish digital corridors to enhance market access, increase transparency and traceability of Kenya's horticultural produce in the destination markets," she said.
Studies show that air freight constitutes about 2.5% of global carbon emissions, despite ferrying just 1% of total global cargo.
In contrast, sea freight produces about 2.9% of carbon emissions and accounts for over 80% of global trade by volume and 70% by value.