Spotlight – briefing series on African markets

In this section, we are sharing recent information around fresh produce markets across East and South African markets, with real experiences of fruit and vegetable producers and traders on the front lines of the crisis.

Click on the most recent date to see the last updates:

  • As reported by diverse European importers, the purchase of goods from East African countries seems to be working. Delays are mainly logistical, for instance in Tanzania truck drivers have to wait two days at the border for a coronavirus test (Fresh Plaza, 19 May).
  • In Zimbabwe, many small-scale farmers, concerned that their enterprises would not survive a substantial decline in sales brought on by the covid-19 lockdown, have turned to Facebook and other social media platforms to sell fresh produce online directly to consumers. As an example, the Facebook group ‘buy directly from the farmer’, recently emerged and thousands of farmers have joined. The group was created on 1 May 2020 and two weeks after already boasts 46 000 members (Food for Mzansi, 13 of May).
  • In Kenya, the pandemic has caused a substantial increase in the online trade of agricultural commodities. Existing e-commerce platforms, such as Mkulima Young, Twiga Foods and Jumia Foods have reported more than 70% increase in trading activity. Trading activity in social networks has also increased, especially Facebook and Whatsapp, as farmers are seeking new ways to bring their unsold produce to the market (Medium, 18 of May).
  • In Zimbabwe is reported the sector is facing a shrunk as there are not sufficient buyers. especially those who grow high-value perishable crops. Now many are dealing with a severe financial blow as many have been left stuck with fresh produce without a market, and at the same time facing labour shortages (The Independent, 15 of May).
  • In Zimbabwe, President Mnangagwa announced the $18 billion bailout recovery package for industry, with special consideration for the horticulture sector that took the hardest hits during lockdowns (Herald Zimbabwe, 12 of May).
  • In South Africa, many have started to draft lessons for growers from the COVID crisis. It is highlighted the critical role of the informal market (the municipal fresh market systems) and restaurants and tourism, as both have an important stake of the total demand, with important impacts in the local farming sector. There is also a risk of over-reliance on imported farm inputs (Fresh Plaza, 29 of May).
  • A second wave of desert locusts is threatening to ruin new crops in East African countries, just a few months after initial swarms hit the region, where more than 20 million people are facing food insecurity. The restricted movement due to COVID-19 has not made fighting the locusts any easier (Fresh Plaza, 29 of May).
  • The Kenyan flower sector is quickly recovering, with exports that have reached 60% of daily capacity, as European movement restrictions ease and Dutch auctions report growing operations. However, the industry is still facing high freight costs and still reduced space on airlines. Airlines currently ship 1,600 tons of flowers weekly, compared with exporters’ demand for 4,000 tons (Bloomberg, 22 of May)
  • The Kenyan fresh produce is expected to drop in the next month as the sector reels from the effects of heavy rains, pests and diseases that have slowed down production amid rising orders in the European market. It is anticipated production to fall by between 20 and 30 percent. The drop in production occurs when European demand starts to grow and the number of freights services increases (Business Daily Africa, 19 of May).
  • As Europe is running short of supply, the demand from East African countries is increasing, but still can have uncertainties that lead to cancellations and brokers not coming. It is highly recommended farmers to grow with contracts in place (How we made it in Africa, 19 of May).
  • For Rwanda was reported weekly exports are currently around 30-35 Metric tonnes, still low compared to the levels prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was between 80-100 Metric tonnes. As part of the economic recovery plan, the National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB) keeps working with the national carrier, RwandAir, to secure more weekly flights to Europe at a subsidized airfreight rate and open more destinations. As well NAEB has availed free access to cold rooms and cargo vehicles to reduce post-harvest losses and improve management of the cargo handling process (The New Times, 26 of May).
  • Rwanda has announced a comprehensive economic recovery plan from COVID-19 and its implementation started in May up to the end of December in the first phase (2020). The first part of the plan consists of monetary policy, fiscal policy and interventions in specific sectors such as agriculture, support to the private sector, infrastructure projects for growth and jobs, technology and innovation plus mining (Taarifa, 15 of May).

  • Kenya’s farmers and produce dealers are looking to social media and farm-based sales to bridge the production and market gaps in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Cornell Alliance for Science)
  • Hundreds of Kenya’s smallholders are now selling their produce online, both as individuals and as part of collectives. Established online marketplaces have ramped up their operations in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. These include Twiga Foods, Selina Wamucii, M-Farm, Farmers Market Kenya, Farmbiz Africa and Mkulima Young. Post-Covid-19, it is likely that this shift towards digital processes will continue as more producers and consumers will have grown accustomed to online transactions facilitated by Kenya’s strong mobile money and cashless technology ecosystem. (Oxford Business Group)
  • Kenyan farmers now rely on the inhabitants of the town to buy their produce, Mutugi said. They’ve also seen a shift in commodity preference, with people buying basic vegetables, such as onions, and holding off on higher-priced items due to economic uncertainty (Cornell Alliance for Science).
  • In Kenya, is reported fresh produce recorded Sh47 billion in the first three months compared with Sh39 billion in a similar period in 2019, despite a 13 per cent decline in volumes. It is mentioned, the disruption witnessed globally has interrupted the supply of the horticulture produce to the international market, coming as a windfall for the Kenyan commodities, but the value for the first quarter has grown significantly. The lockdown in different parts of the world has seen the prices of Kenya’s horticulture produce go up despite a decline in volume. (Business Daily)
  • Kenyan agricultural exports (horticulture, tea and coffee) which were collectively earning Sh21.4 billion monthly last year are currently down to about 40 percent. It is estimated an annualised loss of Sh150 billion. Kenyan farmers are set to lose up to Sh51 billion from the decline in exports in four months of Corona restrictions, experts have predicted, worsening earnings outlook of key agricultural commodities.(Business Daily Africa) 
  • Was reported that Rwanda, during the period from 20th March to 23rd April, a total of 558,849Kgs worth FRW993,180,908 of horticulture produce was exported mainly to Netherlands, UK, France and Belgium. This was achieved through the partnership with Rwanda Air, who is operating two weekly flights. (Rwanda Agri)
  • While floods are wreaking havoc across the region, a swarm of locusts is expected to once again invade Kenya through Ethiopia. This will deal a double blow to food security in a region that is already grappling with widespread economic disruption from the coronavirus pandemic. It is expected the new generation of locusts is set to enter East Africa in June. (Fresh Plaza)

  • Most African fine vegetables exporters trading to Europe, are having important negative effects in the trade of fresh fine vegetables (French beans, snow peas, sugar snaps, baby corn) due in great part the drastically reduced airfreight capacity, doubled airfreight costs and increased transit times. Extra fine beans market demand is stable as expected.
  • A Zimbabwean exporter of berries, reports is having zero sales rate as a result of lockdown, their cold storage capacity is overflowing, so they are looking urgently to find extra cold storage space.
  • Another Zimbabwean exporter mentioned demand for mange tout and sugar snap peas from EU was strong, they are exporting on a KLM freighter. The company has stopped exporting soft fruit (berries) because prices have collapsed in Europe, as these products are now considered non-essential in the main.
  • Coleacp’s consulted fresh vegetable exporter in Zimbabwe, that also sells regionally and locally reports that after 3 days of lockdown, the government relaxed the rules for key sectors: health, agriculture, food manufacturing and distribution. This saw local markets partially open and trade has been going on, although at a slow pace (Coleacp).
  • In South Africa, Gauteng’s fresh produce markets, particularly Johannesburg and to a lesser degree Tshwane, are a major supplier of fresh produce to neighbouring countries, particularly on fruit, but they are much quieter than usual and the absence of foreign buyers are hugely affecting sales. Traders say they are selling less than half the amount of apples to buyers from neighbouring countries than before. “Usually we’d be doing close to 200 pallets a week, now it’s 40 or 50.” (Fresh Plaza).
  • Rwanda fresh produce export remains slow as the cargo availability remains to be 32 tons per week through RwandAir, which is not enough cargo for the export need.
  • Coleacp recently launched a survey in Kenya, which has already consulted more than 30 companies in the fresh produce sector. Preliminary results indicate that the major impacts are on logistics; on companies’ ability to maintain their out-growers/suppliers and employees; and on financial management. Two-thirds of Kenyan survey respondents saw a loss of more than 50% of initial projected revenue for March 2020.  Also, almost 100% of businesses are not able to guarantee a market for their small-scale suppliers, many are unable to pay their out-growers (37%), and even more, are already scaling down on new planting schedules.
  • One of the biggest fresh produce exporters in Kenya is currently slightly moving into local business-to-consumer operations. They reported profitability is not that good as to export, but for them, this is the right thing to do under this crisis.
  • Some Kenyan exporters are in need of raw material, for instance, beans as to satisfy their export market.
  •  The traditional “low season” (May-sept) is going to have an important turn-around with increased demand, some exporters are already asking farmers to grow more for them, but in specific crops.
  • Supply of potatoes is low, 60-70% demand is usually from restaurants. Current orders are cut by almost 30-50%. Potato market is struggling.
  • Flower exports slowly coming back in preparation for Mother’s day, but due to flights shortage is expected sales are not going to reach normal levels.
  • In Kenya, local demand for fresh produce keeps remaining on the retailers’ side. Open-air markets are slowly coming back and part of the customers have gone to their usual local sellers, supermarket demand has somewhat started to be regularized.
  • Local transport in Kenya is starting to have normalized operations.
  • A predicted second wave of desert locusts in East Africa will cause major food security problems for countries already struggling against the coronavirus lockdown. Flight bans have significantly delayed deliveries of pesticides in countries across the region. (Coleacp).


  • InspiraFarms client consultation.

  • In Kenya, Zimbabwe, Rwanda exporters are highly affected as are not able to ship overseas at the same capacity, in most cases have reduced availability of 50 per cent.
  • Kenya has seen a drastic reduction in airfreight cargo. As passenger flights, that accounted for 40 per cent of cargo availability, are not operative. Air cargo, which accounted for 60 per cent of cargo availability, has been reduced also, from 1400 tonnes a week, to transport just 360 tonnes. (Farmers review Africa) 
  • An agro-exporter in Rwanda reports the Rwandan Government is supporting frequent airfreight cargo through Rwanda Air, assuring a capacity of 34 ton per week, to UK and Brussels. The service is available for all Rwandan exporting companies. Cargo price per kilo has increased, but the Rwandan National Agricultural Export Development Board is subsidizing that extra amount.
  • There’s an increasing demand for fresh produce from local markets. Local fresh produce traders are seeing an important opportunity to grow their business.
  • In Kenya, there are shortages of imported fruit such as apples and Kiwis, due to the reduction in shipping logistics.
  • A couple of Kenyan exporters of beans and avocado reported that their shipments reduced from 6 containers to 3 containers per week. Avocado trade is also affected by the closure of local hotels and restaurants. Some producers are considering limiting the avocado availability to their own harvests, reducing the sourcing from small farmers. Others are considering looking at local markets for alternatives outlets of their produce.
  • In Kenya, banana and apple trade is affected due to the closure of open markets and street vendors
  • Since March, Kenya’s fresh produce exports to the European Union have dropped by 46 per cent. The limited movement of consumers in Europe forced markets to cancel or reduce orders. (Hortidaily)
  • In Zimbabwe, the Government allowed the use of foreign currency again as to mitigate the coronavirus crisis, reversing the ban brought in last June. Reuters


COLEACP. COVID-19 updates.

HORTIDAILY. Export of fresh produce from Kenya down 46 per cent

REUTERS. Zimbabwe brings back foreign currency ahead of coronavirus.

Fresh Plaza. Coronavirus in South Africa fruit exports continuing as usual.