Market access

Increase local freight capacity to expand market access

Kenya Airways planes at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

There’s a saying that goes, “You’ve learned your lesson in the past. The future is where you apply the lesson”.

Kenya has been hailed as one of the best performing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Horticulture has taken the lead as the main GDP contributor to the country’s economy. Some of Kenya’s major exports include cut flowers, tea and coffee to countries like Uganda, USA, Netherlands, Pakistan and UK.

Kenya is one of only five African countries to handle 60% of intercontinental air cargo traffic to and from the continent, through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

Kenya’s strong horticultural exports are key drivers of JKIA’s growth as Africa’s ‘giant hub’. In 2020, the airport was ranked among the best for handling over 330,000 tonnes of cargo. Kenya is therefore the commercial hub of East Africa.

A 2020 valuation report by the Ministry of Lands showed that the market value of the airport stands at 1.1 trillion shillings, which is nearly 10% of Kenya’s GDP. The government, in its Vision 2030, recognizes that improved and expanded airport infrastructure is key to improving economic efficiency, regional integration and facilitating international trade.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, JKIA served as a lifeline for economies by delivering vaccines and essential medical supplies by keeping supply chains open. The pandemic has highlighted the need for countries like Kenya to capitalize on consolidating their market share and ability to protect the country’s economy from pandemics and other external factors that influence freight systems air.

The effect of these factors was seen at the height of the pandemic when global airlines suspended passenger flights due to airspace lockdowns. This has resulted in an estimated 60% drop in freight capacity in our market. Jobs were at risk and the country’s second source of foreign currency was at risk.

The government has identified agriculture as a key pillar of its development agenda. It is therefore imperative to create a coherent offer of air freight services. Kenya Airways has seen an improvement in its capacity and infrastructure. The airline took the lead in providing additional capacity at the height of the pandemic, which offered great revitalization to the horticulture industry.

To maintain the growth trajectory, the government should continue to support the national carrier. The airline is expected to increase cargo capacity, efficiency and competitiveness to support other sectors such as essential and medical goods logistics, fresh produce export and other business opportunities. These actions increase the value of the airline’s cargo business, JKIA’s economic outlook and the country’s GDP. State bailouts are critical to the development of strategic national assets, as they allow an entire linked ecosystem within the aviation industry to thrive.

– The author is CEO, Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya