Kenya Horticulture History
The Kenyan horticulture story began more than 60 years ago.During World War II the colonial administration launched an experiment with irrigated smallholder vegetable production to provide dehydrated vegetables for the Kenyan army and Allied troops. Shortly thereafter a canned pineapple export project was begun, first relying on European settler farmers but eventually including many African
smallholders. Some fresh vegetables were also exported to Djibouti, Somalia, Yemen, and the United Kingdom. A few carnations and orchids were exported before independence, in 1963.

The 10-year period following independence witnessed a gradual expansion in all three segments of the industry. A British company initiated a new vegetable dehydration project for export, modeled largely on its wartime precursor. The pineapple cannery brought in Del Monte to manage the operation in order to exploit its international marketing expertise. A Swiss company developed a passion fruit juice export business, and a Danish firm (Dansk Chrysanthemum and Kultur) made a multimillion dollar investment in chrysanthemums. By 1973 there were 36 registered exporters of fresh fruits and vegetables, drawn from domestic wholesalers and retailers and medium-size farmers. An important component was the sale of “Asian vegetables” (okra, capsicums, dudhi, zucchini, brinjals, and karella) to the rapidly growing South Asian immigrant community of London, where Kenyan Asians put family connections to good use.

What has been the impact on ordinary Kenyans?

Export horticulture represents an opportunity for reducing poverty by generating income by smallholders, rural laborers on larger farms, and unskilled or semiskilled workers in processing factories.

The business of horticultural exports can be complex, with the sophistication required to compete at the high-value end of the market rivaling that of many manufactured products. Changing consumer demands, rising standards, and just-in-time delivery necessitate careful supply chain management and close cooperation with the overseas client.

The industry’s development now spans more than 50 years, during which time countless problems have been surmounted. None of the Kenyan exporters had an easy time in the early stages.

The success of the industry is in large measure a testimony to the capacity of the private sector to adapt to changing circumstances, including the failure of old actors and the rise of new ones.
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