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Despite significant improvements in Kenya’s perishable cool chain, there is still too much waste, Air Cargo Africa delegates heard yesterday in Johannesburg.
“It’s been painfully slow, but what we see, from the primary producer to the trucking companies, are organisations putting in place service level agreements, and airlines are making improvements too,” said Conrad Archer, country managing director of Panalpina Airflo.
Jane Ngigi, CEO of Kenya Flower Council added: “There has been quite a bit of improvement. For example, we had about 150 standards and we tried to harmonise them. That process has meant we now have two or three that cover everything and are now more robust.
“And we’ve developed a better working relationship with the government – and now both the government and private sector are at the table.”
She added that perishable exports were a key sector supported by the government.
“Our interest is in securing markets for Kenya in the flower industry. Flowers are responsible for many jobs and are a main foreign exchange earner for Kenya.”
However, there remains too much waste in the system, and insufficient training and understanding, as well as bureaucracy, have exacerbated the problems.
“Top of the list of challenges for us is cumbersome export processes and the need for manual documents,” said Mr Archer. “There is a lack of integration between government agencies, and you can send the same information dozens of times. It holds back fast-moving business.” He also noted that quality and reliability in the supply chain was lacking.
David Beecham, senior manager cargo products at Qatar Airways Cargo, said: “The main frustration is ensuring the shippers present the cargo to us at the right temperature. If it’s not right then, it never will be.”
And he urged greater collaboration between partners. “We all work in silos – the cooperation is not good enough through the supply chain.”
While there was no agreement on the amount of wastage in the system, it was acknowledged that it decreased value.
“If you look at the level of investment famers put in, and the amount of work by forwarders and airlines, it is absolutely unacceptable,” said Ms Ngigi.
“We must come up with solutions. We are looking at the whole value chain. We want to put quality flowers in the market, and make sure they reach the consumers.”
She added that supermarkets also failed to train their staff sufficiently, leading to wastage in the shops. “We’d like to see a level of effort from them, as it’s the farmer that feels the pinch.”
However, Mr Archer believed waste was not necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s a formula of cost versus return. If you throw a lot of product at the market, there will be wastage. Smaller producers may not have as much waste as larger ones, and they will accept a lower price. It’s not necessarily a problem. It’s when waste becomes a cost that it needs to be solved.”
Shippers also expressed concern that as the viability of freighters started to be questioned by carriers, as the lack of southbound cargo diminished profitability, they would be left without services.
However, Noud Duyzings, director Eastern and Southern Africa for Air France KLM, rejected the idea of too little capacity, or the possibility for freighters leaving the market.
“There is more than enough capacity in Nairobi,” he said, on the sidelines of the conference. “Freighters will always play a role here.
“Freighters are great for perishables and oil and gas – and that means Africa.”
He acknowledged that the carrier had taken out two weekly freighter services – but said “they have been replaced by others”.