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So Your Favorite Fruit Is In Season? What That Means In Logistics

Your favorite fruit, just like all other fresh produce that we eat, has to go through an extensive supply chain to reach you.

This supply chain flows from farmers usually in rural areas to individual transporters or shipping companies, then to wholesalers or retailers, and finally to us — the end consumer.

Kenya, especially, faces problems of poor transportation networks, which make the time-distance relationship in the transportation of fresh fruit products to be of great importance in determining whether the products reach the market fresh and in marketable quality.

All in all, seasonal fruits, veggies, and greenery usually have a very short shelf life and are easily perishable. This means shippers struggle to deliver products fresh and on time, despite the length of these fruits’ journey.

Common Tropical Fruits In Kenya & Their Seasons

Bananas: Unlike other fruits which have a growing season, bananas are available all year round. Banana plants thrive in regions where the average temperature is 27° C.

Pineapple: The seasonality of this fruit normally runs from July of one year to April of the next year.

Mangoes: Main harvest seasons are from December to March in Eastern and Central Kenya, and from November to February as well as May to August at the coast.

Oranges: Oranges are mostly in high supply around the March to August period.

Watermelons: The months when the market demand for watermelon is highest are in September, October, November, December, January, February, and March. (In Kenya, watermelons fetch good prices during the dry/hot months)

Passion fruit: The peak season for this fruit is between the months of August and December.

Avocados: The main season for Kenya’s avocados is February to October: the Fuerte variety is available from February and the Hass variety from March.

Apples: The tree has fruits throughout the year and peak harvesting is between February and April.

Pawpaws: Their production normally peaks between August and October.

Why Is The Logistics Of Fruits Important?

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has identified logistics as an essential aspect that needs to be addressed to facilitate inclusive and efficient agricultural and food systems.

Fresh produce relies on efficient transportation to ensure the right product, in the right quantity, in the right condition, is at the right place, at the right time, to the right customer, and at the right price.

This makes the logistics of fruits and other fresh produce such as vegetables, key to health-conscious consumers.

The Particulars Of Fresh Produce Logistics

The fruits supply chain is characterized by multiple stakeholders performing different functions.

The different functions are intertwined resulting in challenges because of the sector’s complexity and the embedded power dynamics.

The main concern while shipping fruit is maintaining its attractive appearance. Essentially, when you go to the grocery store, products that look fresh and just-from-the-farm catch your eye the most.

For logistics and trucking companies or individual transporters, it is a great challenge to deliver produce in sellable condition.

Therefore, any inconsistency and disruption in the supply chain can result in major time and money losses.

Additionally, there is high pressure to follow safety guidelines due to the high risks of food spoilage.

In the fresh fruit industry, speed and careful handling are crucial to guarantee the delivery of fresh and undamaged products anywhere in the country, at any time of the year.

Fruits are primarily moved within Kenya by road. Fresh produce moving by road is not regulated, and there are no standards for ferrying fresh produce by road.

In Kenya, no fresh produce is transported by rail because the rail system does not have facilities to support the fresh produce cold chain. Reefer containers require generators for cooling, which the current meter gauge or standard gauge does not support.

Challenges Faced In The Fruits’ Supply Chain

1. Low Investment in packaging technology and cold storage

Agro-processing and packaging technologies are relatively undeveloped in Kenya.

Deliberate efforts need to be made towards investing in this area to increase produce shelf-life, reduce postharvest losses and improve consumer acceptance in our domestic markets.

Generally, few fruits are packaged and handled properly. Transport and handling costs remain high due to their fragility, high perishability, and the extremely short shelf-life of fruits.

2. Lack of interventions to address wholesale market inefficiencies

The operational structure and performance of the region’s wholesale markets has a significant impact on retail prices and the affordability of fruits.

The costs borne by traders within wholesale markets are high and result from poor market management, insufficient service delivery, and limited investment in infrastructure by county governments.

Post-harvest losses during transport and off-loading are high and wholesalers, who already share a disproportionate amount of the risk within the value chain, set prices that reflect these losses.

Wholesale prices also reflect the costs absorbed by wholesalers to pay for services that should be provided by market management such as sanitation, trash removal, and security.

3. Poor road infrastructure

For a bunch of bananas to make it to the market, they have to cross unpaved, rural roads to a central market; from where they move by cart or motorbike to neighbourhood markets.

Varying road conditions and availability of produce cause price fluctuations that impact both the seller and the buyer.

4. Longer transport time increases costs

This is mainly due to costs deducted from farmers’ earnings to pay for trucks and other related costs including vehicular breakages and insurance against possible losses.

Second, a longer transport time negatively affects the quality of the highly perishable goods and increases the rate of wastage.

These lengthy time-lapses cause farmers to sell their products not directly to consumer markets but to middlemen who transport the products to Nairobi.

These middlemen usually pay lower prices. In addition, the involvement of middlemen reduces farmer access to business-relevant information (e.g. on pricing and other market developments). An increase in travel time harms the information flow between the farmer and the market region

5. Strong dominance by wholesalers

A strong supply chain benefits from the participation of different stakeholders. In an ideal supply chain, wholesalers are important actors and perform different tasks. There are two types of wholesalers when it comes to understanding the power relations in the supply chain of fruits.

The collecting wholesalers specialize in collecting produce from farmers in the region. They travel long distances to purchase commodities in spot markets from the producing areas and towns in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

To facilitate operation, collecting wholesalers frequently employ purchasing agents who work in the production areas on their behalf.

Once enough produce is obtained, collecting wholesalers then transport the commodities to the main cities/towns generally using lorries.

These professional collecting wholesalers sell primarily in urban wholesale markets to the second category of wholesalers, distributing wholesalers.

These traders together maximize their returns through information-sharing as well as through gatekeeping against new entrants.

As a result, they have a substantial amount of market power, which affects the setting of commodity prices as well as sourcing trends. Price-setting collusion among wholesalers is said to be very common.

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