It is almost two years now since President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine took oath of office. Emerging from a tumultuous period in Ukraine's political history, Poroshenko's administration is keen on establishing deeper bilateral ties with Kenya.
TUKO.co.ke spoke with Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food Vladyslava Rutytska on Kiev's cooperation with Kenya, and this is what she had to say:
Question: To what extent has Kenya and Ukraine trade and economic relations been severed by the political upheaval in Kiev, in as far as agriculture and food are concerned?
The first thing I want to say is that the continent of Africa is absolutely critical for Ukraine’s development. Africa as a whole is the third leading destination for Ukraine’s goods.
Unfortunately, trade between Ukraine and Kenya fell by 58% in 2015 to $31.2 million.
This was driven partly by a sharp drop of volume of our agricultural sales to Kenya.
The leading Ukrainian exports to Africa are grains – wheat, corn and barley – as well as sunflower and soybean oil, processed food products and condensed milk.
In 2015, we achieved a significant increase in exports to Africa of meat, cheese and yoghurt, butter, raw and processed vegetables, confectionery, water and wine.
This positive trend was driven mainly by value added products. I believe it is essential that Ukraine continues to move beyond cooking oils to deliver processed food products to the African market.
Question: Are there products that are currently lacking in the Kiev market that Nairobi can fill the gap?
Ukraine imported almost $5 million in goods from Kenya in 2015.
This is a decline of 30% versus 2014.
Imports fell across almost all categories: tea, coffee, tobacco and raw materials.
However, I want to emphasize that Kenya is ready to intensify our relationship, and we are now actively exploring promising areas to increase mutually beneficial trade between our nations.
Let me say a few words on the ways of how to increase Kenya’s presence on the Ukrainian market:
Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Agrarian Policy accompanied by Kenya's Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed, and another guest at a past event. Photo: Ukrainian embassy in Kenya.
Question: You are currently harmonizing Ukraine’s food and agricultural policies to meet European Union standards. EU regulations prohibit the import of a number of Kenya’s key agricultural and dairy products into the EU with disastrous consequences for Kenyan farmers.
What are your views on this? Do you believe such regulations are important?
The European Union is a key strategic partner for Ukraine.
In January 2016, Ukraine’s free trade zone with the EU took effect.
Prior to this, Ukrainian manufacturers could supply a range of products under the autonomous trade preferences. We are grateful to the EU for a "transition" period for domestic producers.
We are now actively harmonizing legislation and introducing European standards in Ukraine. This is not an easy path, but I am sure the European path is the only way forward for Ukraine.
Getting the Euro-numbers is an opportunity for Ukrainian companies to build a world-class businesses.
To be successful, however, Ukrainian producers must be prepared to learn, developing, for example, new approaches to marketing and product promotion.
The priority for our ministry is to provide maximum support to small- and medium-sized enterprises. This is the segment that needs assistance from the government to introduce new standards and receive certification to enter new markets.
Small- and medium-sized businesses will be the foundation of the agricultural sector.
Today, we are implementing a number of reforms in cooperation with the banking sector, which also stands ready to provide investment and support producers.
As I have already noted, a large proportion of the ministry’s current efforts involve legislation – drafting new laws and regulations.
We pay special attention to improving the legislative framework for small- and medium-sized businesses as well as farming cooperatives.
Finally, the ability to successfully make export supplies to the European market is a mark of exceptional safety and quality of our products.
This is a "ticket" to supply its products across the globe.
Question: Currently, Kenya is working towards food self-sufficiency. As of 2015, the country’s self-sufficiency ratio improved from 74.4% to 75.2%. Import dependency ration improved from 29.2% to 28.3%.
One of the key strategies in developing food self-sufficiency is by leveraging research and technology to improve agricultural yields. What has been the trend in Ukraine? Is there certain key research on agriculture that you believe Kenya could benefit from?
Ukraine’s IT industry has great potential for growth in the agricultural sector.
Today, we are working hard to give medium and small farmers access to modern information technology.
Large agricultural holdings have long used the latest technologies in production, dramatically increasing their competitiveness. Recent research has shown that using IT solutions can save agricultural companies as much as 30%! I am pleased that Ukrainian programmers has begun to devote attention to this promising sector. Already, we have a number of inventions and technologies that greatly facilitate the work of farmers.
In addition, IT solutions allow farms to reduce the use of key inputs, such as fertilizers and fuel, and optimise other operating costs.
These savings drop to bottom line, improving prospects for our businesses and the people who work for them.
I want to stress - the government will encourage and assist development of "smart" agribusiness.
I see a number of priorities for our IT professionals when it comes to agriculture.
Question: Please share your thoughts on the future of Kenya and Ukraine collaboration in agriculture and food.
During my visit to Kenya, I was struck by the very productive conversations I enjoyed with the leadership of the Chamber of Commerce.
We discussed strengthening cooperation on the supply of Ukrainian grain to Kenya. There are many other products Ukraine could export to Kenya but does not for various reasons.
In fact, East Africa can consume as much $190 million of Ukrainian products annually – that means an additional US$85 million beyond where we stand, together, today.
Kenya is already one of the largest importers of Ukrainian products in Africa.