, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 5 – Experts from various regional government agencies involved in regulating plant quality standards began an intensive month-long workshop, on Monday, to build the phyto-sanitary capacity in the region.
Hosted by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) the workshop will also focus on boosting regional trade by improving the quality of exported agricultural products.
Although Kenya’s Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) standards have remained high within the region, KEPHIS Managing Director James Onsando said regional food safety standards still continue to fall short of international standards like Codex or International Standards on Phyto-Sanitary Measures (ISPMs).
“There is no way you can do trade in fresh produce and agricultural produce if you do not meet phyto-sanitary international standards and that’s why this course is so important for the region where capacity is slightly lower than in Kenya. It is in our interest as Kenya that our neighbors have the capacity,” he said.
With Kenya as the world’s leading tea and horticulture exporter, Dr Onsando said such a forum would enable the country to protect its competitive position in export markets.
The value of Kenya’s horticultural exports in 2009 was recorded at Sh71.60 billion, with flowers accounting for 52 percent of the shilling value of exports in the same year.
Also speaking during the launch, Agriculture Secretary Dr Wilson Songa stressed the need for inter-regional cooperation to promote harmonised SPS measures.
“Just integrating is not enough. How much we shall trade among ourselves will depend on the mechanisms we have put in place to make that trade safe. So it is very important that we acquaint ourselves with all the new requirements of the various markets,” he said.
Harmonised standards within the region, he added, will protect consumers and provide clear guidelines for producers to meet.
As the current drought continues to plague the Horn of Africa, he said opening regional trade to free movement of staple foods would allow countries to take advantage of regional diversity and different harvest periods to move crops from surplus to deficit areas.
In the last century 233 new pests were recorded to have been introduced into the African market, with 66 of these being insects and mites and 167 new plant diseases, posing a major threat to the Agriculture sector.
Globally, pests and diseases reduce crop production by up to 30 to 40 percent.
The course that is sponsored by USAID will train participants on accurate pest identification, regional policy issues and consistent enforcement of standards.