Kenya is among the leading exporter of perishable cargo to various destinations across the globe. Currently, Kenya is a key importer of sensitive cargo from Europe, South Africa, Dubai and Asia while its key export markets for flowers and agricultural produce are in primarily found in Europe and parts of Africa.


Perishable cargo can be described as goods that will deteriorate over a given period of time if exposed to adverse temperature, humidity or other environmental conditions.  As such, utmost care is required when handling perishable cargo which includes; fruits and flowers. Pharmaceutical cargo is also considered perishable cargo as their quality also relies on proper handling and at times maintenance in specified temperatures. However, for Kenya to claim its enviable position as a global leader in perishable cargo exports, a thorough and rigorous cargo handling program must be in place to ensure that the entire cool chain is secured and satisfies the cargo temperature and packaging requirements to ensure the cargo quality delivered is consistent with market demands.


Professional handling perishable cargo is critical as this type of cargo suffers a decline in quality when handled incorrectly. For the customer, this results in a drop in its market price and demand for the consumer; for the handler this results in millions of dollars in insurance claims. Consequently, professional handlers of perishables pay special attention to packing, handling and any other aspects of the perishables transportation process. This implies that all the players in the perishable cool chain such as growers, packers, cargo loaders, transporters and airlines receiving the perishables must adhere to a set quality service standards to ensure that the entire chain maintains and preserves the perishable cargo quality.


Siginon Aviation is a leading air cargo handler in JKIA, Nairobi, Edward Muchiri, the Export Manager states; “Perishable cargo, must be handled professionally throughout the entire cool chain from the farm to the final customer in a ‘Known Shipper Regime’. Siginon Aviation launched a new USD 10 million air cargo terminal on the airside of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi, Kenya. The facility has been strategically developed to perform warehouse activities and ground handling operations in JKIA. With a 5000 square metre of floor space, Siginon Aviation has dedicated an additional 3000 square metre of cold room floor space that is custom made to handle cargo that is perishable in nature. The terminal has the capability to handle temperature sensitive cargo enough to fill 2 freighters B747 at a given flight turn around with a direct access to ramp, pharmaceutical cage measuring 70 square feet, DGR storage facility for both imports and export. The Siginon Aviation air cargo terminal has a unique cool chain corridor that opens up into the JKIA airside that allows for direct movement of the perishable cargo from the cool corridor onto the air craft. This therefore reduces the exposure of the cargo to the open temperature. Edward adds, “The cool chain corridor is a one of a kind feature in the JKIA cargo environment. The design of Siginon Aviation’s cool chain corridor is a reaction to customer demands for a solution to movement of perishables from the warehouse onto the aircraft without tampering with the temperature requirements.”


Siginon Aviation handles temperature controlled shipments ranging from horticultural, agricultural products and pharmaceuticals. In addition, all classes of dangerous goods, explosives, flammable products, radioactive, gases, toxic substance, fragile cargo with “handle with care” specifications due to delicate nature and ease of breakage should they be poorly handled and pharmaceutical cargo that requires special storage and specified security measures due their high versatility. Edward Muchiri adds that “demands for sensitive cargo include but not limited to: special packages, specific instruction depending on the product, time bound temperature controls, high insurance costs due to claims if the cargo is not handled properly as well as security, safety and escort management requirements”.


Perishables handling further requires high caliber staff qualified in specialized cargo handling operations. The Siginon Aviation staff have been trained in additional special skills in Aviation operations such as cargo skills, live animal, perishable handling, aviation security and ramp safety. The operations team further undergoes annual refresher trainings to ensure the skills are up to date with current market demands.


Over the years, Kenya has seen an increase in exports directed to various international markets due to its global reputation as a trusted source of agricultural and horticultural produce. This position is further strengthened by industry players such as Siginon Aviation who adopt innovative solutions that safeguard the cargo quality and focus on customer satisfaction while benchmarking on international standards of operational excellence.


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