Taha Group CEO, Jacqueline Mkindi said over the weekend after the two leaders ended a stalemate involving truck drivers in relation to testing them for the coronavirus before crossing into each other’s territory that had caused long queues of cargo trucks last week.
“We are very grateful to our two governments for amicably resolving the border dispute occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic to allow a seamless cross-border movement of cargo,” Dr Mkindi who represented the private sector at last week’s ministerial bilateral talks at Namanga border ordered by Magufuli and Kenyatta.
She said that the border row had put Tanzania’s multi-million dollars horticulture industry into the cross fire, as a lion’s share of exports go through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and Mombasa Port.
“Had the border dispute continued, the horticulture industry would have been the first casualty as we heavily rely on JKIA and Mombasa Port as main gateways for exports of our perishable commodities to the overseas markets,” Dr Mkindi noted.
Latest data from Ministry of Agriculture shows that horticultural exports value has surged to a staggeringly to $779 million in 2018/19 from $412 million in 2014/15, becoming the growth driver of the entire agricultural sector with contribution to overall agricultural exports at 38 percent.
“The Dar and Nairobi’s truce leaves everyone a winner because it keeps the shelves of Kenya’s supermarkets stocked with our fruits and vegetables while earning us foreign currency but also saves our jobs,” she added. The dollar earning horticulture industry employs an estimated four million people with at least a million farmers allied to Taha.
The Taha boss said the two heads of state intervention has ensured the smooth flowing of cargo trucks cross borders but also called on authorities to remove any other sort of cargo restrictions and operating curfews to allow cross border trade growth.
“We shouldn't allow cargo trucks filled with life-saving horticultural foods delayed at border crossings due to cumbersome and bureaucratic processes relating to Covid-19 testing. Not in our time, not into our great East African region,” the Taha chief pleaded while noting that keeping trucks carrying vegetables, fruits or flowers at border crossings for one or two days is tantamount to deliberately destroying the perishable commodities worth millions of dollars.
In their final communiqué, Tanzania and Kenya delegations agreed that vehicles should not be compelled to offload at the border as part of a wide deal to end the recent border dispute over coronavirus testing between the two countries.
Farmers on either side of the border will be allowed access to their farms across the border after being identified by the local authorities. Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Transport, James Macharia said the two countries must unite to protect their trade interests and address the health concerns of citizens.
The two East African Community members have an annual trade turnover of more than U$500 million. “We have reached an agreement that Tanzanian and Kenyan drivers will be subjected to the WHO standard Covid-19 testing in their territories and issued with clearance certificates,” said Macharia after the meeting.
Speaking at the event, Communication Works and Transport Minister, Isaac Kamwele said after finding a breakthrough, the two countries must now honour the agreement to allowfree movement of goods across the border. “Our drivers will only enter Kenya armed with a Covid-19 clearance certificate,” Kamwele said.
Horticulture is one of the most vibrant agriculture sub-sectors of the Tanzania’s economy. Growing at 12 percent rate per annum, it is one of the fastest growing industries and in fact has become the growth driver of the entire agricultural sector in the country.
Exportation of horticultural crops from Tanzania mainly depends on passenger flights which have since been suspended as many countries take measures to curb the spreading of COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result of the restrictions by governments, availability of cargo planes has declined by 80 percent in Europe, 100 percent in the US, 95 percent in Canada while Asia has declined by 80 percent. Owing to the massive cancelations of majority of flights to Tanzania, local producers use Kenya’s JKIA and Mombasa port as alternative gateways for exports to international markets.
A fortnight ago, President Kenyatta caused mayhem after closing his country’s common border with Somalia and Tanzania blaming the two nations for doing very little to test drivers and citizens against COVID-19.
In retaliation, Tanzanian officials also blocked entry of Kenyan cargo trucks while subjecting drivers to COVID-19 testing in a tit-for-tat showdown prompting the Magufuli/Kenyatta phone conversation to end the blockade.