Cover Image
close this bookExporting High-Value Food Commodities: Success Stories from Developing Countries (WB, 1993, 119 p.)
close this folderAppendix The development and performance of case study commodity systems
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentMexico fresh tomatoes
View the documentKenya 'off-season' and specialty fresh vegetables
View the documentIsrael fresh citrus fruit
View the documentBrazil frozen concentrated orange juice
View the documentChile temperate fruits and processed tomato products
View the documentProcessed tomato products
View the documentArgentina beef
View the documentThailand poultry
View the documentThailand tuna
View the documentChile fisheries
View the documentCultured shrimp production and trade in China and Thailand
View the documentSoybean development in Brazil and Argentina
View the documentDemand-driven agricultural diversification in Taiwan (China)

Kenya 'off-season' and specialty fresh vegetables

Over the past three decades, a large trade in 'off-season' temperate vegetables and non-traditional vegetables has developed with many Mediterranean, African, and Southern Hemisphere countries as suppliers to West European markets. This trade, encompassing dozens of different vegetables, was stimulated and facilitated by:

1) the increased affluence, health consciousness, and foreign travel of West European consumers,

2) improved technologies and institutional arrangements for the distribution of fresh produce within Europe,

3) the emergence of large immigrant communities from Mediterranean, Asian, African, and Caribbean countries in several European countries,

4) programs in supply countries to diversify agricultural exports, and

5) increased air carrier linkages between Western Europe and other regions and improved airfreight technologies for handling perishables.

Among developing countries, one of the longest standing and diversified fresh vegetable export trades to West Europe is that of Kenya. A Kenyan cooperative, the Horticultural Cooperative Union, actually pioneered the European 'off-season' vegetable trade in 1957 when it sent small consignments of green beans, sweet peppers, chillies, and other commodities to a London-based broker who sold the produce to up-market hotels, restaurants, and department stores. Although Kenya's 'off-season' and specialty vegetable trade was in later years far surpassed in scale by those of Israel, Morocco, Egypt, and several other countries, Kenya has outperformed all Sub-Saharan African countries in this market and has retained a very strong competitive position in the markets for certain high-quality, high-value commodities, servicing niche markets.

Kenya's high-value fresh vegetable exports grew out of an earlier domestic and regional market for less perishable items (potatoes, onions) and the development of a market for quality vegetables to service the country's settler population and emergent tourist industry. With the opening of air carrier links to London and to Aden, HCU and several private wholesaler/retailers sought international market outlets. With limited freight capacity and limited investment in irrigated production, this trade would remain very small through the 1960s.

The 1970s witnessed a steady and considerable expansion of this trade, supported by private investments in irrigation facilities, a major increase in the available air-freight space (with a booming tourist industry and the introduction of wide-bodied carriers), and the development of long-term trading linkages between Kenyan exporters and Europe-based distributors. Kenya emerged as one of Europe's leading suppliers of high-quality sweet peppers, courgettes, and french beans, and the major supplier of a diverse array of 'Asian vegetables' (e.g. okra, chillies, karela, dudhi) consumed by the U.K.'s rapidly growing immigrant communities from South Asia and elsewhere. Kenyan firms were favored suppliers as they could provide a basket of several dozen different specialty vegetables on virtually a year-round basis, while competitors had a more limited product mix and more seasonal supply. While the U.K. was the dominant market outlet (due to the immigrant market, more direct flights, and closer business and/or familial ties), Kenyan firms were also competitive in several continental markets.

Kenya's comparative advantage was based on its low labor costs, the country's location straddling the equator, and diverse agro-ecological conditions. These facilitated the development of a diverse product range, the spreading of supplies over much of the year, and the achievement of relatively high quality produce through larger allocations of labor to harvesting and other tasks. While Kenya's airfreight costs were held below some competing countries by government fiat, Kenya's strength in the market was not its lowest cost, but its greater continuity and higher quality than most of its developing country competitors. With the leading Kenyan exporters being of South Asian ethnic origin, the country was particularly well placed (in terms of product knowledge, consumption trends, and trade contacts) to penetrate and develop the market for traditional vegetables amongst Europe's immigrant communities. The fresh vegetable export trade also benefitted from the rapid development of Kenya's tourist trade and its vegetable processing industry as these provided remunerative outlets for surplus production or production not meeting export standards.

The 1980s brought mixed results to the fresh vegetable trade. On the one hand, Kenya lost its market for several temperate vegetables (e.g. sweet peppers and courgettes) due to higher quality or greatly lower cost supplies from within Europe or from Mediterranean countries. On the other hand, Kenya expanded its trade in french beans, increasing its market share in several countries and obtaining price premiums for quality over nearly all suppliers with a favored niche in the market. While there would be many competitors, Kenya also fared well in specialty vegetable market. Both for beans and for 'Asian vegetables', several Kenyan suppliers succeeded in breaking into the distribution channels of supermarket chain networks where the largest growth in trade has occurred. From the stable base of vegetable exports (and wholesaling), several leading exporters have diversified into other product lines including tropical fruits and cut flowers.

Another important development over the past decade was the incorporation of many thousands of smallholders into export-oriented operations. While once the vegetable export trade had a narrow base, with only a few dozen medium-to-large-scale growers, it now provides an important source of income and employment to many people and has had positive multiplier effects in several Parts of the country.

Kenya Fresh Vegetable Exports

Source: Kenya Horticultural Crops Development Authority