A new dawn for Kenya and The Kingdom of The Netherlands: adoptation of electronic phytosanitary certification (ePhyto) to improve trade efficiency

The launch of electronic phytosanitary certification (ePhyto), a timely solution for safe trade facilitation in plants, plant products and regulated articles, is yet another milestone between the Kenyan government and The Kingdom of the Netherlands, which follows a long history of collaboration in several sectors, with agriculture and trade, being in the lead. The close relations continue to be the bedrock of development, which is key to creating equitable and sustainable growth.

Ecertification intro

In Kenya, apart from driving economic growth, agriculture also creates jobs for rural communities and essential to satisfying the nutritional needs of people and animals. Agriculture contributes to more than 26 percent of the GDP and over 60 percent of informal employment, with the largest contribution coming from crops production. Farmers continue to produce - with the horticulture subsector, the fastest growing agriculture subsector, now ranked third in terms of foreign exchange earnings, after tourism and tea in Kenya.

“The EU remains the most important market. So, when we talk about fresh produce, we are talking about the EU. Therefore, anything that touches EU, touches the nerve centre of our industry,” explains Clement Tulezi, Chair National Horticulture Task Force & CEO Kenya Flower Council, emphasizing the importance of EU market to Kenyan horticultural farmers.

Why should certification be digitalized?

Before digitization of the process, the export and import processes were not smooth. There were bottlenecks, where certification on Phytosanitary checks would be issued by a National Plant Protection Organization of the exporting country and is then transported to the importing country through various means. This exposed the certificate to defacing, forgeries, alteration and delays, leading to rejection of the certificate at the destination country and consequently interception of the consignment.

The need to have efficient service delivery in the export and import of plant and plant products prompted two countries, through their implementing agencies Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) and The Netherlands Food and Consumer Safety Authority (NVWA) to think of how to address the challenge. KEPHIS data estimates that about 60 percent of consignment rejections at border points due to noncompliance associated with paper certificates; a problem which can be avoided.

The two countries pioneered, and for over 10 years Kenya and the Netherlands have been working on the adoption and implementation of electronic certification with the object of having paperless certification. On December 8, 2022, the partner institutions under the two countries met to officially launch electronic phytosanitary certification (ePhyto), in Nairobi. Stakeholders including those from private sector lauded the ePhyto saying it is the game changer in export and import of plants and plant products.    

Ecert milestone event

"If you want to go fast go alone, and if you want to go far, go together"

Patricia de Vries - van Loon, Chief Phytosanitary Officer, Ministry of Agriculture Nature and Food Quality, Netherlands termed the launch as a milestone, attributing it to a long history in successful cooperation, notably in sustainable agriculture. She explains that both Kenya and the Netherlands depend on international trade and agriculture for prosperity and economic growth, and this becomes evident in how both governments prioritize agriculture in their respective Ministries. “The bilateral cooperation and especially shared ambitions between Kenya and Netherlands have led to the formation of agriculture working group. And the important focus of this cooperation are plant health and phytosanitary matters as well as electronic certification of plant products,” she explained.

Under this phytosanitary umbrella, Patricia says Kenya and Netherlands work together on streamlining issues regarding plant health to enable market access for their products, and also ensure only produce which meets the stipulated requirements is traded between our countries. “I have had the pleasure of interacting with growers and see first-hand their efforts in production for both local consumption and export markets. I have also witnessed extremely high professionalism of KEPHIS and how they work together with the industry to jointly face and tackle the challenges.”

She commended Kenya for being the first country in Africa to successful implement ePhyto, with other countries using Kenya as a benchmark country.  “By going paperless, the electronic certification system will facilitate a more efficient way of trade of fresh produce between our two countries,” she explains, adding that the adoption of ePhyto as an absolute win-win situation for both countries.

As number two exporters of agriculture products in the world, Patricia explains that the Netherlands is dealing with large volumes, and the only way to manage is through electronic certification. “By becoming paperless, you certainly become bigger. If you have ambitions of increasing your export, then you need electronic certification to make that happen, in terms of cost, speed, logistics, and reliability,” she said. Patricia crowns the two countries milestone with African proverb: “If you want to go fast go alone, and if you want to go far, go together. We indeed have gone far and we want to go further in our cooperation.” Patricia was accompanied by Bart Pauwels, Agricultural Counsellor, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Alexander Moret (NVWA).

Patricia de Vries - van Loon: CPO at the Ministry of Agriculture (NL)
Patricia de Vries - van Loon: CPO at the Ministry of Agriculture (NL)

Prof. Theophilus Mutui (Managing Director, KEPHIS) is optimistic that the launch ePhyto electronic certification is going to reduce documentation to be transmitted from Kenya to Netherlands and the world. He pointed out that it will also reduce the cost incurred by the exporters since they don’t have to visit KEPHIS physical offices but do it at the comfort of their offices. “With digitization, we anticipate to reduce the number of interceptions due to false documents. This can be reduced by almost 99 percent“, Prof. Mutui explains. “KEPHIS has benefitted from the cooperation through staff trainings with specific disciplines, skill development and knowledge transfer, a value which has set Kenya as a leader representing Africa in the global ePhyto steering group. Our brothers in Africa look upon Kenya in assisting their ePhyto systems.”

MD KEPHIS speaking at the Ecert Milestone Event
Beeld: ©The Kenya Wall Street

Prof. Theophilus Mutui (Managing Director, KEPHIS)

In 2018, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) created the IPPC ePhyto Hub, a platform for exchange of electronic phytosanitary certificates (ePhyto) among trading partners. Currently there are over 70 countries, including EU member states, who have implemented paperless certification. Initially, Kenya and the Netherlands had a bilateral arrangement for exchange of electronic phytosanitary certificates. However with the global adoption of ePhyto, Kenya have connected to the IPPC ePhyto Hub to facilitate global exchange of electronic phytosanitary certificates. KEPHIS has automated most of services, for example if you want to import agricultural produce, you apply for a plant import permit using import certification system.  For export you use Export certification systems and for seed, they use seed certification and plant variety systems.

Josiah Syanda (Senior Officer, Phytosanitary and Biosafety Services, KEPHIS) explains that during the process of inspection, everything else is done as usual. However, the critical point of management is the point of issuance of the certificate where it is digitally generated. Initially, they have been doing this by paper, which had its own challenges. “With the digital generation, there is digital signing which is then transmitted real-time, eliminating intermediary parties, and the receiving country implementing the certification will be able to receive in real time,” he says.

He explains that by targeting to reduce interceptions to 99 percent compliance and thereby eradicating the issue of non-compliance due to forgeries and lose of documentation, the savings is going to benefit farmers. He says the interceptions currently stands at 60 percent and are specific to the EU, which is a block. However, as they implement the systems, there will be a continuous decline in interceptions.

Increasing investments and innovation by digitalization

The launch was graced by PS Honourable Kello Harsama, State Department for Crop Development, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, who equally commended the agriculture sector as the primary driver of Kenya economy, hence the importance of addressing the bottlenecks. In his key address, He reflected on how the Covid-19 pandemic affected every organization around the world, necessitating changes in strategies and embracing digitalization to manage the situation. When the world stopped and no passengers could travel, the flights were converted to cargo flights, indicating that trade had to continue.

“Digitalization is a key factor of increasing investment attractiveness and innovative development for our countries. It improves business efficiency and productivity, improves resource management through automation processes, lowers operation of businesses, enhances transparency and better communication, and amplifies customer experience,” he says. Digital transformation provides enhanced security by reducing risks associated with cyber-attacks which can disrupt business operations. The focus throughout digitalization under investment in the development of innovative technologies has enabled the country to be competitive globally. “We believe that digital transformation has a high impact in many areas especially enhanced trade in plants and plant products. The Netherlands is a key friend to the Republic of Kenya. We have a very long key history of operations particularly in the agricultural sector, which has continued to be the bedrock of development of both countries and key to creating equitable and sustainable growth.”

PS Honourable Kello Harsama trying out the ECERT online system

Principal Secretary Hon. Kello Harsama (State Department for Crop Development, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock) sending through the first Kenyan certificate with the IPPC ePhyto Hub, a platform for exchange of electronic phytosanitary certificates (ePhyto) among trading partners

Harsama assured Netherlands of quality produce but requested them not to shy away, but keep sharing the shortcomings. “Tell us how best we can correct the short-comings, how best we can improve our quality to ensure that we have a sustained market relationship,” he says.

The Principal Secretary is happy that in ePhyto matters, other countries are coming to benchmark with Kenya. In the past, Kenya has spent a lot of money traveling every part of the world to copy what other people are doing through benchmarking. It is now great for Kenya to now host other countries, for them to benchmark from us.

Kenya and the Netherlands have agreed to continue exploring innovative ways to perform their phytosanitary mandates, enhance and facilitate trade while ensuring proper pest risk management and climate responsive technologies.

Ecert milestone event participants

Do you want to know more about eCertification? 

Check out this explanatory video: Kenya and The Netherlands - cooperation on electronic certification (vimeo.com)

You can also use this one-pager: Home (e-cert.nl)

For more information about the trainings offered or in case of questions for the Agricultural Counsellor feel free to contact us via nai-lnv@minbuza.nl. You can always contact us when starting new businesses and partnerships which can contribute to improving agricultural productivity in Kenya and Tanzania. For the latest updates follow us on twitter @NLAgriKenya or register for our newsletter by sending an email.