- The outlook for agriculture, by contrast, is set to be more profoundly depressed.
- For sure, our agricultural exports have been affected by all the dropped flights, which hit fresh produce, as well as changed lifestyles in Europe, with restaurants widely closed, and flower shops too.
- So our horticulture can hope for some kind of bounce-back as everything opens again post-Covid.
As we survey the future, we are being caught in a pincer movement in our economic outlook. For the key pillars of our economy are agriculture and tourism, and both are currently getting mashed up by the affairs of Europe, our biggest trading partner.
As far as tourism goes, domestic tourism and workshops are holding many hotels open at some level. However, the high season is now circling to its close with most resorts virtually empty from Monday to Friday, albeit that weekends bring just a few more visitors.
Those that are surviving best are offering weddings, school trips, and, of course, low season seminar packages, to backfill for the missing foreign tourists. But the struggle is clear and resorts are going up for sale.
There are signs that European travel restrictions could ease in coming weeks. Holidays to Kenya are, for most European tourists, long-planned visits rather than impulse purchases.
But, at current discounted rates and with targeted marketing, our hospitality sector should start to capture some sales to foreigners who have now been cooped up for most of a year in a very different way from those of us in Kenya. Months on end of ‘stay at home’ orders, where it isn’t permitted to meet family or friends, and when all is closed except essential supplies, have made many Europeans long for a far-away holiday.
But those economies have also reeled, dropping hundreds of thousands of jobs as their own hospitality and retail sectors, and many others besides, have been put to sleep.
Moreover, even as we watch to see how many tourists come back and how quickly, the airlines are now struggling, with flights set to be fewer and pricier. Last month, Heathrow raised its airport taxes in a move to cover some of the losses of the last year. So travel, itself, is also set to be more challenging.
Nonetheless, tourists will return.
The outlook for agriculture, by contrast, is set to be more profoundly depressed. For sure, our agricultural exports have been affected by all the dropped flights, which hit fresh produce, as well as changed lifestyles in Europe, with restaurants widely closed, and flower shops too. So our horticulture can hope for some kind of bounce-back as everything opens again post-Covid.
But we are also now engaged in a new kind of politics around agriculture from which there is no way back to where we were.
In great news for the sector, we have this month ended our self-imposed ban on mango exports to Europe, in place since 2014, after repeatedly stopped consignments due to fruit fly. It has taken a countrywide campaign to end the blight and resume exports safely. Yet, even as we get mangoes moving again, many other crops are now caught in a new war over pest control.
The EU has now banned most pest control products on a precautionary basis, which means that where political groups claim they are unsafe to humans, the EU has banned them even without supporting scientific evidence. The USA has reviewed the criticised pesticides and reported there is no evidence they are unsafe in close to all cases.
But now Europe wants Africa to ban them, too. So it has moved a lot of entry requirements from the minimum residue levels agreed to any detectable level in parts per million.
The minimum residue set, by an international committee that spans the Food and Agricultural Organisation and World Health Organisation, as completely safe. So, in this debate, the World Health Organisation no longer knows about health.
Our ministry is anyway working with farmers to train them further on how to eradicate even one part per million of any pest control products. But Europe is also pushing through the African Union and through NGOs and political parties for complete bans in Africa.
And from there, we lose 40 or 50 percent of our output, and then drop much of the rest of exports on the pests in the crops, so, either way, our European agricultural market may be on its way gone forever — maybe part of the EU’s development support? For the first time, I truly worry about our economic future.