A firm’s journey to a herbs exporter amidst challenges of accessing global markets

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By: Verenardo Meeme, Rootooba, 9 July 2020


Mrs Jane Kaleha, a youthful entrepreneur, halted college to pursue her passion for farming, eager to produce quality food and make it big as a global exporter. Her thrill for farming was nevertheless mired by lack of information, the possibility of failure to access global markets, compounded by financial constraints and stiff competition.

Having quit school to pursue her passion and realizing there was no turning back, she pushed herself to think outside the box to overcome her challenges.

While she had no contact in the global market, her breakthrough came in 2017 when she found insights on global markets and possible opportunities in farming for export from GLOBALG.A.P., an organization whose information she came across through the internet. She immediately rang some exporters whose contacts she had identified online, but they declined to visit her farm, citing non-compliance to the GLOBALG.A.P. standard and the small size of her farm.

The incident gave her impetus to find out more information about the GLOBALG.A.P. standard through her own initiative. Having equipped herself with adequate information, Jane embarked into the export industry, which she considered better regulated, consistent and profitable. This, compared to the local trade for her produce that had become unprofitable and unsustainable as cheap produce from neighboring countries, was flooding the markets with no regulations, edging her and many like her out of the market. 

After taking this direction, she founded Rehani Fresh Limited in 2017, a grower and exporter of fresh-cut herbs such as basil, tarragon, chives, rosemary, oregano, mint and thyme. The farm is domiciled in the splendid savannah grasslands of Kinanie in Athi River, Machakos County.

According to Jane, ninety percent of information about growing and exporting herbs that she relied on during set up was procured through the internet, as experienced farmers refused to share information about growing herbs for export.

With a capital of USD 70,000 for infrastructure, USD 1,500 for audit preparation, USD 1,400 for maximum residue limit testing for seven varieties, USD 200 for water and soil test and USD 720 for certification, Rehani Fresh was ready to begin. It took one year to get GLOBALG.A.P. certification after having complied with all its requirements. ‘‘We started small with 12 greenhouses. Currently, we have 43.” Jane noted. 

Jane Kaleha- during TOURSTOP 2019, Kenya

Jane confessed that starting had its capacity challenges. “We sprayed our products with chemicals without following the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) guidelines.’’

At times, Jane noted they used chemicals meant for spraying flowers to spray vegetables while the sprayer had no requisite personal protective equipment. They also used a paper bag that had all chemicals mixed and kept ‘safely’ in a chemical room as their store.

 ‘‘In Kenya, we do not have yet certified plant protection products for herbs, yet it is a major compliance issue. The government needs to support us fully in addressing this.”

Rehani would request clients to give their approved plant protection products for use in herbs production, “which made us travel to Europe to link with clients,’’ she said.

Due to her ignorance and lack of information, she lost USD 7000 in consultation fees from people who took advantage of her innocence. However, luck was to come by as a farm in Kenya that charged her only USD 100, granted her a tour, through which she got relevant information that she further relied on to export to the European Market.

‘‘GLOBALG.A.P. standard has guidelines on food safety and hygiene, social and environmental aspects that helped us better manage the farm and access the European market, hence improving our profit margins,’’ Jane said.

In addition, GLOBALG.A.P. Risk Assessment on Social Practice (GRASP), a voluntary ready-to-use module designed to backstop social practices on the farm, has enabled Rehani to improve employees’ living and working standards as well as access better-paying clients. It addresses specific aspects of workers’ health, safety and welfare.

According to Mr Jim Jeffcoate of Hurdletree Associates, and keynote speaker during the GLOBALG.A.P. TOUR stop conference 2019 in Kenya, most governments and the private sector have grappled with sustainable solutions for engaging youth in agriculture. With economic growth and the rise of the middle class, there will be more demand for quality food. If this demand is met through sustainable production approaches, it will result in producers moving back into high-value agriculture that leverages technology, where youth may be engaged.

Jim adds that smallholder producers need to aggregate and use technology to build sustainable supply chain systems. ‘‘Growers should not wait for it to happen, but embrace technology and prepare to adapt to the highest markets available.’’

While he encouraged new farmers wanting to establish links in the market to visit growers in their field to get information about international markets, Jim acknowledged government as best placed to provide this information. 

 “Listen out to the challenges, especially on markets and prices, as these are the major causes of many firms closing down. The government is best placed to provide farmers with knowledge, information and linkages”, he adds.

 He however, noted that in some instances, there was limited feedback on information queries by producers from the government; an aspect that required to be addressed to strengthen confidence and position government bodies to play their part better. The fact that government officers are over-stretched in service delivery and often operate with limited resources in providing essential services cannot be overlooked.

Jane advises farmers who are considering herbs production to be passionate about their call, conduct thorough research and engage certified experts to make the right decisions. “I hope that the government can play a role in supporting access to G.A.P standards by smallholder farmers,” she concludes.

According to Mr. Bernard Ondanje, Head of a Horticulture Crops Directorate (HCD), the government plays a critical role in facilitating trade. For instance, through inspection and certification, which is done by the inspectorate. The Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA), under which HCD is domiciled, has the mandate to guarantee food safety by ensuring compliance with the required standards for both local and international markets.

In addition, the East Africa Community (EAC) and Common Markets for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) provide trade incentives that benefit producers, on favorable terms. These markets have the potential to absorb market needs for producers in Africa. Although each market has its requirements and standards that have been set by various governments, GLOBALG.A.P. standards are acceptable in these markets.

Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) is one of the government bodies that support farmers to produce healthy commodities. ‘‘KEPHIS offers training at farm level, but the challenge has been on traceability and integrity. It is not always guaranteed that an inspected farm will be the source of the actual products exported,’’ said Pamela Kibwage, Phytosanitary Officer at KEPHIS.

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