2023 in review: Top 8 News Impacting Africa’s Fresh Produce Export Industry

The first half of 2023 witnessed a series of pivotal moments that have set the course for the future of Africa’s fresh produce sector. From innovative freight solutions to lifting existing bans, the industry experienced significant events that will have a lasting impact on its growth and performance in the years to come. In this article, we delve into the top eight stories that dominated headlines, capturing the attention of industry players and observers alike. 

1. Kenya launches direct flights to boost exports to Israel 

In May 2023, Kenya’s Agriculture Cabinet Secretary (Mithika Linturi,) emphasised the significance of this move to allow the industry to grow by increasing flights to allow more export of fruits and vegetables. The country aims to boost its exports to Israel, particularly in the horticulture sector, by leveraging recently established direct flights between the two countries. The flight is expected to reduce travel time to Israel from 24 to 5 hours. 

2. Tanzania Regains Eligibility to Export Bitter Gourd Fruit to EU Market

In November 2022, European Commission suspended exports of Tanzania’s bitter gourd fruit into the EU market, citing the detection of quarantine pests, and demanding the country present the pest surveillance report proving the absence of Thrips palmi Karny. However, in May 2023, after a comprehensive analysis of Tanzania’s pest surveillance report, the Plant Health Unit under the European Commission declared Tanzania to be eligible to export bitter gourd fruit to the EU under condition (a) of point 71 of Annex VII of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/2072. This was an important milestone in the phytosanitary certification system in compliance with the EU phytosanitary requirements, and Tanzania is, therefore, eligible to export bitter gourd fruit to the EU again. 

3. Kenya Lifts Ban on Exporting Unprocessed Macadamia Nuts for Increased Market Access. 

In 2009, President William Ruto, as the then Minister of Agriculture, banned the export of unprocessed macadamia nuts to allow local processors access to larger quantities of the raw material which in turn would create jobs in this labour-intensive sector. Fast forward to April 2023, the government has backtracked on this directive, lifting the ban for one year. According to Kenya’s Trade and Investment Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria, lifting this ban would open marketing outlets for growers and allow competitiveness so that farmers can sell to the highest bidders.   

4. Zimbabwe Approved to Export Fresh Citrus Fruits to China 

In January 2022, the two countries signed an export protocol agreement to export fresh citrus fruits from Zimbabwe to China. The agreement would allow fresh citrus including sweet orange, mandarin, grapefruit, lemon, and lime, to enter China. However, exporters must have had to be registered with the Ministry of Land, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water Resources and Rural Development of the Republic of Zimbabwe, and jointly approved by the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China and MLAFWRD. 

Further into 2023, on June 1st, the General Administration of Customs of China released the list of registered Zimbabwean orchards and packhouses for citrus exporting to China. A total of 11 citrus orchards and six citrus packhouses in Zimbabwe were listed among those that will be involved in citrus exports to China, making Zimbabwe the fifth African nation to be approved to export a fresh fruit product to China. The list was based on a set of relevant provisions for quarantine control of these pests, which include specific cold chain protocol regarding pulp temperature, pre-cooling and contingency requirements if the cold treatment period is broken. 

 5. Kuehne and Nagel Acquires Morgan Cargo 

Kuehne and Nagel, a leading logistics provider, recently made a significant move in the African fresh produce sector by acquiring Morgan Cargo. This strategic acquisition aims to strengthen Morgan Cargo’s presence and capabilities in Africa, offering improved freight services and support for the region’s growing produce industry. With this acquisition, Kuehne and Nagel aim to expand their network and enhance their ability to handle fresh produce transportation, storage, and distribution across Africa.
french beans in a packhouse, processed for export

 6. Shortage of Fresh Food Hits UK Supermarkets 

UK supermarkets are facing a concerning problem as they grapple with a shortage of fresh food. This issue has been attributed to a combination of factors, including supply chain disruptions, labour shortages, and increased demand. As a result, store shelves are struggling to remain stocked with a variety of fresh produce, impacting both consumers and retailers alike. The availability of specific fresh vegetables and fruits in the UK is limited due to an unfortunate combination of factors. Poor weather conditions have resulted in reduced harvests in Europe and North Africa, affecting the supply of these produce items. Additionally, UK and Dutch producers have faced challenges as increased energy costs to heat glasshouses have led to lower supplies. 

7. Rationing Measures and Farming Crisis Hit UK Supermarkets 

Fresh fruit and vegetable shortages have resulted in rationing measures at major UK supermarkets. As a consequence of poor foreign harvests and domestic farming crises, Asda and Morrisons are implementing restrictions on the purchase of specific items, including tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and peppers. These limitations are expected to remain in place for several weeks. The decline in fresh produce from Spain and North Africa due to flooding and cold temperatures, combined with high energy prices affecting UK farmers, has contributed to the scarcity. During the winter and spring, when the UK only produces a small portion of its own fresh produce, imports play a critical role in supermarket stocks. Moroccan authorities have also restricted exports of certain vegetables and potatoes due to concerns about their own food security. 

8. Load Shedding’s Devastating Impact on South Africa’s Citrus Industry 

Load shedding has had a significant negative effect on agriculture in South Africa, since like in many African countries, the sector heavily relies on the national grid for producing and processing goods for both local and international markets. Electricity plays a crucial role on farms, particularly in powering irrigation systems, post-harvest cooling, and more, making the reliability of the national grid vital. Therefore, load shedding has a devastating impact on agriculture, particularly in South Africa. Reports from May showed that load shedding put the electricity-dependent citrus industry under a lot of strain, including delayed shipments, thanks to delays in packing and shipping, both processes that require electricity.  

Across South Africa, farmers have had to resort to alternative power sources, such as generators, inverters and solar PV, to stay operational during ongoing power cuts, but this has become another financial burden. All of these have come at an additional cost at a time when their profit margins have been squeezed due to a hike in input costs, transport and shipping prices. 

In conclusion 

The first half of 2023 brought significant developments in Africa’s fresh produce sector, with notable events shaping its future. Kenya’s launch of direct flights to Israel aimed at boosting fruit and vegetable exports highlighted the industry’s growth potential. Tanzania’s regained eligibility to export bitter gourd fruit to the EU marked an important milestone in meeting phytosanitary requirements. Additionally, Zimbabwe’s approval to export fresh citrus fruits to China solidified its position as the fifth African nation to enter the Chinese market. However, challenges emerged, as load shedding in South Africa negatively impacted the citrus industry, leading to delayed shipments and increased costs for farmers. Overall, these stories demonstrate the opportunities and obstacles that shape the trajectory of Africa’s fresh produce sector for the next half of 2023.