Kenya is the logistical hub of East Africa

Kenya has in recent years focused on the development and improvement of their infrastructure. With success. The export of agricultural produce has received a serious boost. “At the moment Kenya is the logistical hub for the whole of East Africa” shares the Agricultural Counselor, Mrs. Ingrid Korving. Who is as the Agricultural Counselor from the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality responsible for Kenya and Tanzania.

This article is part of a larger series on the work of Agricultural Counselors abroad. Read more on what they do. This time we talked to Mrs. Ingrid Korving who is based at the Netherlands embassy in Nairobi. Read the other interviews (Dutch) here:

Interview with the local press during the Naivasha Show, Sep 2019 (Ingrid Korving in the middle)

COVID-19 has a big impact in Kenya and Tanzania. Especially in the first months the impact was huge. Air traffic came to an abrupt halt, which meant that the export of flowers almost stopped. 

Mrs. Ingrid Korving: “The dependence of export on air traffic was immediately visible. Pack houses were full and products had to be destroyed. It was a threatening time for the sector.” Thanks to consultation with the other European member states, airlines and the Kenyan Government we booked results. Passenger flights were transformed into transport for agricultural products. “My agricultural team was closely involved. There was a need for export to continue, as this sector is crucial for employment. We had to improvise, but the export slowly picked up again.” We have now entered into dialogue with the involved parties on how the risks can be spread. The export of agricultural produce is too dependent on air traffic, making trade in times like these vulnerable. “Opportunities for sea freight are now being explored. Some companies are already testing with the shipment of roses and carnations via sea to Europe. Currently it takes about four weeks for produce to arrive in Europe by sea, which means this is not a viable option for all products. Ensuring quality is a priority. Transport by sea requires development of new varieties, which have a longer shelf-life/ vase-life. Dutch breeders can play a role in this.”  

What is the impact of COVID-19 on smallholder farmers

“Kenya has about 7 million smallholder farmers. They were also greatly affected by COVID-19. The transport of agricultural products to the cities stagnated. Strangely, this also had a positive effect. Farmers were in more direct contact with their buyers, dropping the brokers and middleman. The farmers became more organized and collectively got better prices. Hopefully this change will continue in the future.”  

Start landbouwwerkgroep tussen Kenia en Nederland, april 2019
The start of the Agriculture Working Group between Kenya and the Netherlands, Jul 2019

What are the consequences of the COVID-19 measures in Kenya and Tanzania on your the activities of your team?

“Just like in the Netherlands we communicate now mainly via the internet. In Kenya the connection is good, so that works. For example, the meetings on phytosanitary and veterinary issues with our partners continued through webinars and video calls. In Tanzania this is more difficult, the internet connection fluctuates. Personal contact is very important in Tanzania.”

What are the most important developments in the agricultural sector in Kenya and Tanzania?

“In Kenya that is certainly the improvement of infrastructure. Transport with cooling containers from Nairobi to Mombasa is now steadily flowing. In both cities, big container terminals have been built. This also benefits the surrounding countries, like Uganda and Tanzania. Kenya is at the moment the logistical hub for East Africa, which also stimulates agricultural developments in these countries. Export markets in Europe and the Middle East have become easier to reach. Moreover, the investment climate for foreign investors in Kenya is good. In Tanzania the slogan is ‘Tanzania first’. Together with the Tanzanian Government, we work on the development of the poultry, aquaculture and potato value chains. That demands time and energy, but in the end the results are rewarding.” 

Bezoek aan Mombassa-haven in het kader van E-certificering
Signing the MoU’s between Tanzania and the Netherlands, Jul 2019

Which opportunities for the Dutch Private Sector and Knowledge Institutes do you see?

“The agricultural value chains in Kenya are better organized now than they were five years ago, but strides can still be made. The post-harvest losses are still huge, Dutch companies can make a difference with their technologies and expertise. Climate change negatively affects food production. The weather is unpredictable. It is no longer certain when the rain seasons start, sometimes it is too dry other times too wet. This leads to new pests and diseases in crops. Furthermore, we see a lot of salinization. There is an urgent need for more drought resistant and salt tolerant seeds and efficient irrigation technologies. The Netherlands is leading in these fields.”

Is circular agriculture important in these countries?

“In Kenya definitely, not only as an agenda item, but also in real life. We for example support a company that breeds insects by using organic waste. These maggots of the Black Soldier Flies are sold as animal feed. We also see other companies who are making biogas from bio-slurry or companies that use solar energy for their irrigation. Moreover, Kenya has a ban on single use plastics. In that respect these countries (Kenya, Uganda & Rwanda) are ahead of Europe.”

Ondertekening MoU’s tussen Tanzania  en Nederland in april 2019
Visit to the port of Mombasa to discuss E-certification

What do you like best about your work as a counselor?

"The work is versatile and each day is different. One day I am meeting the Minister of Agriculture, the next day I am in Mombasa to see Dutch seed potatoes arriving in the port. As an agricultural counselor you can make a difference, both for Kenya and the Netherlands. For example by increasing the efficiency of import regulations for the import of starting materials. We have built strong partnerships with the governments of Kenya and Tanzania. The expertise and knowhow of the Dutch agro-sector in Kenya is appreciated.”

What is difficult about your work?

“That would be the unpredictability. Whether it is the climate or unrest during election times or making appointments. As a Dutch I like to have a certain level of control, but you need to let that go here. Africans often say ‘This is Africa’, which means that a certain level of uncertainty is just part of daily life, something you need to accept. We have experienced arriving at the Ministry with a high-level delegation for an appointment that was planned for months, only to find out that the Minister went to a different appointment. That is and can remain difficult.”  

Het landbouwteam actief in Kenia en Tanzania.
The Agriculture team from Kenya and Tanzania

What are your tips for entrepreneurs who would like to start in East Africa?

“You definitely need to be in it for the long run. There are no quick wins. Initially you will mostly need to invest, both time and money, and only after a while you will be able to see the benefits. You also have to love being a pioneer. If you like to think in terms of solutions, Tanzania and Kenya provide an abundance of opportunities. It is fantastic to work here.”

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