Farmers, traders at a loss as State moots punitive rules

Tomatoes
Damary Onditi, a farmer in Migori County samples her produce of tomatoes. Greenhouse tomatoes have high demand due to good health seen by skin color and succulence. [Stanley Ongwae/Standard]
The government has banned the use of animal manure in new regulations.

And in a country ravaged by cyclic drought and suffers from perennial water shortage, under the Crops (Food Crops) Regulations 2018, the government has criminalised use of water from the well, river or any other natural source to irrigate crops.

Farmers will be required to use a kilo as a standard measure, this means one cannot buy a single tomato or onion in the market.

This is a slap to millions of mama mboga who eke out a living selling food crops in market centers in what has evolved as kadogo economy.

Likewise, the sale of grains using gorogoro (tin), debes or buckets will be a crime, according to the new regulations which stipulate.

“All food produces and products shall be offered for sale only in markets designated by the County government. The unit of measurement of all food crop produce shall be the kilogramme. The maximum weight for each single unit of package shall be fifty kilograms.”

Suspended

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According to the regulations which have been formulated to effect the Foods Crops Act 2013, a farmer who contravenes any section will be fined Sh500,000 or serve a jail term of one year or both if convicted. The Act says,”a person who contravenes any provision of this Act, or commits an offence for which no penalty is prescribed, shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding Sh500,000, or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or to both.”

This comes hot on the heels of yet another assault on the farmer by the Kenya Dairy Board (KDB) which had last week proposed a raft of measures which had among other things banned sale of unprocessed milk and fixing of prices by the regulator.

The proposals by KDB were however suspended after outcry of Kenyans who accused the government of micromanaging a sector they had not been assisting.

The tough regulations, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, are key in ensuring food quality and safety, part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda.

But consumers and growers see this as an assault to farmers in a bid to micro-manage their earnings and add more levies and charges.

Consumer Federation of Kenya secretary general Stephen Mutoro said he was disappointed that there was no consultation with farmers and how the matter was communicated to the public.

“It shows how regulatory bodies are misusing their powers to make laws. Profiteers are the ones running the show. There should be proper consultations,” said Mutoro.

Farmers who spoke to Saturday Standard on the proposal to ban use of manure said it was a plan by the state to frustrate innovative ways of enriching the soil with nutrients.

Josphat Bett, a mixed farmer in Bomet County said the plan was aimed at forcing farmers to purchase inorganic fertilizers.

“The Government has realized that farmers have invented ways of sustaining their farms. I use animal manure on my crops and the post-harvest remains of crops are fed on animals. We cannot accept such move,” said Bett.

Similar sentiments were shared by Roselyne Ayuma, a teacher and a farmer in Kitale who accused the state of robbing from farmers.

“The Government dictates prices for our maize here. They have even refused to buy them and now they come up with a questionable act to send us to extreme poverty,” she said.

Another farmer questioned what will become of the manure they collect from their farms.

“It is a joke taken too far. So what shall we do with manure? Will Government start coming to collect them?” Posed David Ruto from Bomet County.

On irrigation, the new laws provides, “A person shall not use water for irrigation to produce food crops unless the water is has been analysed by a competent laboratory and declared safe for food crop production.” 

The regulations further prohibit use of animal manure for production of food crops and prohibits growing of crops near sewerage treatment plants as use of faecal matter is now a crime.

The regulations which donates some power to the County Executive Members in charge of agriculture gives expensive alternatives for manure.

“A grower shall only use chemical fertilizers which have been recommended by the respective county Government.”

While the regulations appear to inconvenience the small scale farmer, it also seeks to ensure safety of food crops, which is a challenge in the country due to lack of clear standards or guidelines.

The regulations dictate that a person shall not produce food crops on soils that have been confirmed to be contaminated with heavy metals, toxic chemical substances and harmful pathogenic organism.

Where the soil contamination can be reduced to acceptable levels, such soils may be used subject to implementation of a management plan issued by the Authority.

The Ministry of Agriculture stated that the regulations will ensure better yields as farmers will have better choice of advisory and input services from government extension officers and private partnerships that will participate in a predictable sub sector.

Improvement in standards

The government maintains that improvement in standards will translate to food produce that will be accepted and bought by even the local manufacturers translating to income to the farmers and reducing the burden of importation.

“Such certified food crops produce will then trade regionally and internationally to earn the country foreign exchange,” reads the Regulatory Impact Statement.

The regulations give powers to the Agriculture and Food Authority to randomly sample, test and analyse all food crops in any collection centres, markets or warehouses, food depots and in processing facilities to ensure they conform to the set stipulations.

“The Authority shall seize, detain, dispose of or destroy, at the cost of the offender, any food crop that do not conform to the food safety and quality and any other requirements in this regulation,” the regulations read.

At the same time the county governments will register farmers annually categorised as large scale growers, growers’ association comprising of individual small scale farmers. 

The county governments will also be required to ensure every operator of collection centres or warehouse shall register with the Authority.   

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