Kenya Railways eyes horticulture exports as more volumes shift to sea

Kenya Railways eyes horticulture exports as more volumes shift to sea
Kenya Railways eyes horticulture exports as more volumes shift to sea

Africa-Press – Kenya. Kenya Railways is heavily investing on refrigerated containers (reefer containers) as it angles for a pie of the country’s horticulture exports, which are increasingly shipped.

The shift is pegged on Kenya’s ambitious “green”plan to move up to 50 per cent of its horticulture produces, mainly flowers, to the export markets by sea freight, with Europe as the main target.

Other major exports by sea include avocados, macadamia and the traditional tea and coffee exports.

According to Kenya Railways’ management, the corporation expects the first batch of 20 reefers for the SGR freight operations by July 14, alongside coaches for the passenger services.

These form part of additional equipment, which includes 500 wagons, procured in February to boost freight and passenger services.

“We will be doing the first trial on reefers in the course of this month from Naivasha to Mombasa, where we will be moving perishable goods,” Kenya Railway managing director Phillip Mainga told the Star.

Kenya Railways has renewed its call to importers and exporters to move more volumes by rail, saying it is more convenient and has lower carbon emissions.

SGR freight is offering volume discounts of between five to 15 per cent, and upwards, to importers and exporters that have entered into transport agreements with the corporation that guarantees volumes.

“Moving cargo by rail takes eight hours from Mombasa to Nairobi and 10 hours to Naivasha which is more convenient than roads which have delays due to traffic. Give us the cargo,” Mainga appealed, adding that goods are also delivered to major players by side rails.

Kenya Railways has also moves cargo from Mombasa to Malaba, through the linking of the SGR and the Metre Gauge Railway (MGR) line at Naivasha.

The SGR-MGR link moves cargo six times faster (by rail) than road from Mombasa to Malaba.

While it can take up to five days to transport cargo by road from Mombasa to Malaba, depending on the drivers’ stopovers and traffic along the corridor, rail transport takes about 28 hours.

Transporters are seen to prefer road transport due to lower freight rates.

In 2023, the volume of cargo transported via MGR increased by 27.2 per cent to one million tonnes.

Cargo volumes transported via SGR increased from 6.1 million tonnes in 2022 to 6.5 million tonnes, as rail continued to tap more business through the port, which recorded a cargo throughput of 35.9 million metric tonnes.

Horticulture volumes are expected to boost SGR freight operations and earnings, as sector players move more cargoes to sea freight, a plan that has received the backing of the European Union.

According to the Kenya Flower Council CEO Clement Tulezi, the goal is to ship 50 per cent of Kenyan flower exports by sea in seven years.

Sea freight requires careful planning and scheduling, with delivery taking about 30 days. Flowers however reach the market in “perfect condition.”

With avocados and mangoes also being shipped via sea, it assures Kenya Railways of volumes.

Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya projects the move will also cut freight costs by between 40-50 per cent , compared to what exporters are spending on air.

Airfreight rates range between $4.50 (Sh578) and $6 (Sh771) per kilo, depending on the various operators at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). This means sea freight could cost about $3 (Sh385) per kilo.

Earnings from horticulture recorded an upward trend from Sh147.1 billion in 2022 to Sh153.7 billion last year, the Economic Survey 2024 indicates.

The EU, which is Kenya’s biggest export market for flowers and other horticultural produces, has been keen on supporting the country’s shift to green and sustainable transportation of exports, via sea.

According to Netherlands’ ambassador to Kenya, Maarten Brouwer, the transition from airfreight to sea freight however needs close collaboration with the private sector.

It is important to create export volumes, optimise systems and foster innovations in port development, Brouwer notes.

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