Why farmers should drive crop value chain reforms

In Summary

•The Horticultural Crops Authority Bill covers fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants, herbs and spices as well as flowers and ornamental plants. The Miraa, Pyrethrum and Industrial Crops Bill 2020 deals with miraa, pyrethrum and bixa, among others.

•The proposed laws are part of reforms geared to increasing farmers’ income in line with the Big 4 Agenda on food security and the Agriculture Sector Growth and Transformation Strategy (ASTGS).

A coffee farmer picks ripe berries.
COFFEE SECTOR: A coffee farmer picks ripe berries.
Image: REUTERS

The Ministry of Agriculture recently published five legislative Bills affecting key crops and which if passed into law, will have a significant impact on the economy and livelihoods of millions of Kenyan farmers.    

The Bills cover a broad array of crops whose contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product is valued at hundreds of billions of shillings.

These are the Coffee Bill 2020, Fiber Crops Development Authority Bill 2020, Food Crops Development Bill 2020, Horticultural Crops Authority Bill 2020 and the Miraa, Pyrethrum and Industrial Crops Bill 2020.

The Coffee Bill 2020 seeks to streamline the production, processing and marketing of coffee. The Fiber Crops Development Authority Bill covers sisal and cotton. The Food Crops Development Authority Bill 2020 applies to potatoes, maize, beans, soya beans, barley, millet, cassava, peas, yams and other basic food crops.

The Horticultural Crops Authority Bill covers fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants, herbs and spices as well as flowers and ornamental plants. The Miraa, Pyrethrum and Industrial Crops Bill 2020 deals with miraa, pyrethrum and bixa, among others.

The proposed laws are part of reforms geared to increasing farmers’ income in line with the Big 4 Agenda on food security and the Agriculture Sector Growth and Transformation Strategy (ASTGS).

The Bills are currently undergoing public consultation as required by law. The public have been invited to give their views on the Bills after which they will be submitted to Parliament.  

 

However, the Council of Governors and the Senate have threatened to contest the laws, saying counties were not consulted in their formulation. 

Essentially, the proposed laws are seeking to revamp key agricultural crop value chains, and provide a legal framework for their regulation by specialized authorities. Until now, the crops have been under the regulatory purview of the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA).

This is set to change with the establishment of new specialized agencies. Agriculture CS Peter Munya argues that there is need for a more focused approach to the development and regulation of the various food and commercial crops.

This will see AFA gradually phased out and replaced with leaner authorities focusing on specific crops thus bringing greater efficiency into the sector.

Just like the Tea Bill 2020 and Sugar Bill 2020 - both private members’ Bills currently at an advanced stage in Parliament – the new Bills are likely to attract resistance from entrenched interests. Hence, the need for farmers to take up a more proactive role in ensuring they are enacted.

It is not possible to delve into the finer details of the Bills here but having gone through them, a few salient features stand out. One, the proposed reforms will reorganize key crop value chains in a way that enhances farmers’ participation and income.  

Two, the sector will benefit from greater efficiency in the development and regulation of both food and cash crops. Three, the Bills seek to entrench ongoing agricultural reforms into law thus ensuring greater policy certainty and stability in the sector.  

Farmers therefore need to play a central role in ensuring the proposed reforms are entrenched into law for the following reasons.

First, farmers have a direct stake in the Bills as they aim to improve their income and enhance productivity. Individually or through bona fide representatives, farmers’ views need to come out strongly. In any case, they are the primary producers of the crops and deserve to be heard.

Second, from previous experience and more recently with the Tea Bill 2020, powerful vested interests may be angling to frustrate the reforms. These could see farmers relegated to a peripheral role yet they are the primary stakeholders in the agriculture sector.

Third, the economic impact of the Bills, if passed into law, will be enormous and re-shape entire crop value chains valued at billions of shillings. Agriculture contributes nearly a quarter of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. These Bills have a potentially transformative impact on the sector.

Coffee, tea and horticulture are among Kenya’s biggest foreign exchange earners. Strengthening these vital crop value chains will help the country and more importantly, our farmers, earn more money out of the valuable commodities.

Fourth, the Bill will ensure ongoing reforms in the agriculture sector are entrenched into law thus safeguarding farmers’ interests by giving legal effect to policy. This is also an opportunity to create pro-poor value chains targeting millions of our farmers living in poor, rural communities.  

Fifth, creating leaner regulatory agencies focusing on specific crops will introduce more efficiency into the sector, reduce bureaucracy and institutional costs while accelerating innovation and value addition as envisioned in the ASTGS. 

Sixth, some of the proposed laws such as the Coffee Bill 2020 contain revolutionary measures which if implemented will liberate farmers from the shackles of middlemen and cartels. ‘Cartelization’ of key crops like coffee and tea has perennially denied farmers a voice and good returns on their produce.  

Seventh, farmers have a constitutional and statutory right to participate in the process. Indeed, public participation is one of the constitutional values and principles enshrined in Article 10 (2) which provides that participation of the people is a key tenet of good governance.

The government has set aside 21 days starting October 16 for stakeholder consultations on the Bills. Farmers and their representatives should take full advantage of this window to air their views and ensure their interests are well taken care off. There will also be a further opportunity to make their input once the Bills move into the parliamentary process.  

Farmers should not waste this golden opportunity to secure their long-term economic interests by allowing the same middlemen, brokers, cartels and other groups that have been exploiting them to control and bulldoze them out of the process.

The Agriculture CS should also move with speed to resolve the issues likely to create a political impasse pitting the Executive against the Senate and the counties. We should not allow misunderstandings that can be ironed out to derail the process of reforming one of the most strategic sectors of our economy.

Mr. Choto is a lawyer and public affairs consultant. Email: [email protected]

 

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