There are three main transportation options for produce: air, rail, and sea.
Over 95% of the exported cut flowers are transported by air which makes securing air cargo space a priority. To cushion this, large exporters have been able to exercise some control over space through joint ventures with freight forwarders. The freight forwarders inspect and document flower and temperature conditions, palletize packed flowers, store them in cold storage facilities at the airport, clear them through export customs, obtain phytosanitary certification, and load the cargo onto commercial or charter flights. Some forwarders also offer cooled transport for growers.
Kenya-to-Europe routes are served by about a dozen commercial airlines as well as charter companies using wide-body planes. Cargo handling agents deliver direct services to the airlines, and are responsible for all cargo-related service requirements between the time an aircraft arrives at a terminal gate and the time it departs on its next flight. Fast, efficient and accurate ground handling services are vital minimizing the turnaround time (the time during which the aircraft must remain parked at the gate). Some of the airlines transporting flowers include Cargolux, Emirates, Kenya Airways, KLM, Martinair, Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, Qatar, Saudi Arabian Airlines among others.
Since flowers are highly perishable by nature, speed of delivery is of the utmost importance, as are appropriate temperature control measures during transit. For cargo handling companies it is important to invest in adequate infrastructure facilities, such as cold stores and pre-cooling facilities, testing and cargo handling, and internal container depots suitable for floriculture products. The infrastructure at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) is catching up with the increase in production in recent years. Due to hefty investments, the current capacity meets industry needs, even in peak periods like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
The Kenya Airport Authority (KAA) requires freight forwarders to scan all packaging items rather than accepting a random sampling moving the delivery time forward and lengthens processing times. Moreover, KEPHIS introduced an Electronic Certification System easing the process. However, it becomes a challenge when the system is not working causing delays and consignments going without proper documentation. This is currently causing interceptions in the EU especially or even results in delays/next flight.
During palletizing, the products are often put on 1 pallet. This means extra handling, as products move from A to B, to C and D (administration, transport transfers, re-loading, sometimes restacking). It also affects the cold chain, as it creates more sensitive transit moments. Some growers have organized forwarding themselves, putting into practice their strong need to stay in control.
When it comes to delivering an attractive flower product to the consumer, post-harvest handling is as important as growing. In this sense, the reliability of air connections is just as crucial as the cost. As well as creating additional cargo space, airports must continuously improve their infrastructure, including perishable goods handling facilities. Handling floriculture cargo calls for a high frequency of international flights and chartered flights.
According to past surveys, it has been observed that some Handling agents focus on cost management, rather than on quality management. Some forwarders / handling agents are also not geared to reacting to delays or handling late afternoon, night, or weekend deliveries. Arrivals during the workday often receive better treatment. Price is the decisive criterion for customers in selecting a handling agent, while no minimum quality limits are determined. A 24/7 availability of all parties dealing with perishables is a necessity since closed offices cause delays in the release of shipments.
Efficiency in the speed of delivery is of paramount importance, as are appropriate temperature control measures during transit. For cargo handling companies it is important to invest in adequate infrastructure facilities.
Cut-flowers and ornamentals
With a perfect all-year growing climate, affordable labor and access to temperature-controlled air freight, Kenya has all the ingredients to become one of the top flower producers in the world.
Traditionally, the bulk of flowers from Kenya are moved into European markets through the long-established Dutch auctions, making Kenyan growers largely dependent on second parties.
Over the years, Kenya’s exports to Europe have grown from about 11,000 tons in 1988 to 170,000 tons in 2020, with the industry earning the African nation more than US$800 million annually. The main cut flowers grown in Kenya are roses, carnations, alstroemeria, gypsophila, lilies, and a range of other summer flowers.
Access to airfreight is crucial to the country’s success as a flower exporter, says the Kenya Flower Council. The country’s strategic position, as a major regional hub for the airline industry in East and Central Africa, allows easy access to cargo capacity with major airlines and charter operators serving the markets in Europe and the rest of the world. With the advancement in cold chain logistics, high-growth markets such as India and China are now within reach for the country’s flower exports.
As the industry grows, concerns over its carbon footprint have also come into question. For instance, roses grow naturally in Kenya under ideal conditions. But in the Netherlands, greenhouses using energy-intensive artificial light and heat must be used. As a result, Kenyan roses are about six times more carbon efficient than those from the Netherlands.
Fruits and vegetables
The fruits and vegetables that we eat on a daily basis has to go through an extensive supply chain to reach our plates. This supply chain flows from farmers to packaging and shipping companies, then to wholesalers or retailers, and finally to us – the end consumer. The supply chain can be surprisingly long if you don’t buy local, and the goods still need to be fresh despite the length.
The first step in transporting produce involves examining the fruits and vegetables to select which ones are sturdy enough to endure shipping. Produce that looks perfect, free from damage and bruising, and that is under-ripe is then selected for transport.
Next, transporters must select the best packaging for shipment. Fruits that have hard skins are good for long travel because they are sturdy enough to handle it. Softer fruits, on the other hand, have to be carefully packaged and handled carefully. When selecting packaging, transporters must also consider factors like how to protect produce from temperature changes.
Once the produce has been selected and packaged, it is ready to be loaded and shipped. Transporters must be conscious of what they are shipping, as some fruits cannot be transported together. All fruits release a harmless gas called ethylene after being harvested, and each fruit releases the gas in different quantities. This gas causes certain fruits like tomatoes and peppers to ripen and spoil faster, so they must be kept separate from fruits that release the gas in large quantities.
Transporters must also consider where the cargo is going. Most countries restrict the transport of products across borders to prevent the spread of bacteria and plants that could damage their local ecosystems and thus have different rules and regulations for deliveries.
Conditions to consider during transportation
Temperature & humidity
It is imperative that temperature and humidity be controlled and kept at the right levels to keep produce fresh and sage while it is being shipped. It is important that produce remain cool and refrigerated, as bacteria and pathogens can grow when temperatures begin to rise.
Fruits like oranges, grapes, and cherries need to be stored at a temperature from 0 to 2 degrees Celsius and with 95% to 100% humidity. Other produce like bananas, avocados, and mangos can be damaged by the cold, so they must be kept in the range of 13 to 15 degrees Celsius and between 85% to 90% humidity.
Consumers do not want to purchase bruised or damaged produce, so if it gets damaged in the shipping process, it will never make it to the store. Shocks and vibrations that occur during shipping can seriously damage the produce, and this is a big risk if the items are not packaged and loaded properly. In fact, if a transporter is over-burdened with produce to ship, they may load an excessive number of pallets in one vehicle to cut costs, often resulting in damaged goods.
Although there are many challenges associated with the logistics of fresh produce, there are methods and unique technology that can be used to minimize risks and improve quality.
The use of data logging has allowed transporters to fine-tune their shipping and storage methods to ensure that produce stays safe and fresh. Data logging involves using one or multiple sensors to gather data about things like temperature, lighting, and sound to monitor the produce being shipped. The data flows through the device and is usually moved into a network or cloud in real-time, allowing transporters to take measurements in predetermined time intervals to ensure the temperature and humidity requirements are being met.
Data logging is a big component of the cold chain process as well. The cold chain process refers to the several steps, or links in a chain, that have to occur to move refrigerated products like produce from one member of the supply chain to another so that it can eventually reach the end consumer.
If the temperature is not maintained at any time throughout the cold chain process, the produce can spoil or become unsafe to eat – resulting in wasted food and money for the shipper and other members of the supply chain.
As a result, there must be clear communication and logistics planning between the operators of refrigerated transporters, the refrigerated warehouses, and the refrigerated equipment at the retail destination.
While the logistics of fresh produce are challenging and complex, monitoring each step of the process can ensure that the produce makes it to the end consumer safely and intact. Technology like data logging, and the cold chain process, make this possible and allow us to have the fruits and vegetables we enjoy on a daily basis.