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What proposed fertiliser rules mean for your village agrovet

By Kamau Macharia | August 15th 2021

Loaders carry fertilizer belonging to Yara East Africa limited at the company depot along Mombasa road in Nairobi.[Collins Kweyu,Standard]

The government is set to tighten its regulation of fertiliser trade, a move that agriculture experts say could hinder use of the commodity.

New proposals in the Fertilisers and Animal Foodstuffs (Fertiliser), Regulations, 2020 will require the shopkeeper at your rural trading centre to get a licence to sell the input to farmers.

The regulations have proposed creation of a new State entity – the Fertiliser and Animal Foodstuffs Board of Kenya – to regulate the manufacture, importation, distribution and sale of fertiliser.

Stakeholders in the agriculture sector have, however, poked holes in the new law, saying it is a blind way of regulating a nascent sector that is still in need of room to grow.

They say fertiliser use is fairly low in the country and needs incentives to push uptake.

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for more than 70 per cent of Kenyans.

Of particular concern are clauses that seem to tighten the noose around small fertiliser dealers; requiring them to undergo rigorous processes before they can stock the commodity.

“An application to the county licensing officer for a dealership licence shall be submitted through the respective county director of agriculture,” the proposed regulations say.

“Upon obtaining the application form, the county director of agriculture shall verify that the applicant meets the requirements prescribed in the form. Where the requirements have been met, the (director) shall recommend to the county licensing officer to issue the license.”

The county governments will also be required to submit data of all registered fertiliser dealers to the board on a monthly basis.

Timothy Njagi, a research fellow at Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, dismissed the new regulations, claiming it would be almost impossible to implement them.

“Kenya does not manufacture fertiliser, we are a net importer. Creating an entire parastatal to regulate the fertiliser sector is imprudent,” he said.

“Farmers purchase fertiliser seasonally, during the planting season. It will be difficult to tell an agrovet, or any small dealer, to get a licence for the sale of the commodity after every few months and subject them to stringent regulations without hurting their overall business.

“As stakeholders in the agricultural sector, we had advised the Ministry of Agriculture to conduct deeper consultations on the matter, but we were ignored.”

Different scientific analysis

Dr Njagi also noted that oversight of fertilisers is under the Crop Department of the ministry while animal feeds is under the Livestock Department, adding that it will be difficult to implement the regulations as they are.

“In my view, you can’t regulate fertiliser the same way you regulate animal feeds. The chemical nature of fertilisers needs an entirely different scientific analysis to regulate for safety concerns, unlike animal feeds,” he said.

There is also the question of duplication of roles. The proposed fertilisers board will be checking standards in the same way Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) does.

It will be also checking for counterfeits, which is already done by the Anti-Counterfeit Authority.

Licensing and registration is supposed to be undertaken by county governments while the regulatory role the board is assuming has already been undertake by the Agriculture and Food Authority.

It will also be duplicating some of the work done by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), with the fertiliser board having a mandate to issue permits for import of fertiliser.

Duplication of permissions

Kenya Private Sector Association Director Bimal Kantaria noted that Kebs is already doing most of the tests that the fertiliser board will undertaking.

“There are also Kebs standards on fertilisers, so this adds another layer of bureaucracy. The regulations say the tests will be done by a recognised authority but also say private firms can involve their own inspectors, so what is the role of Kebs in all this?” he posed.

Kantaria is also the chair of the Agriculture Sector Network, an umbrella organisation for agribusiness firms. 

“(The new regulations) also require firms to apply for permission when importing from the fertiliser board, but industry players are already applying for import permits through the Import Declaration Form system through the KRA.

“Again, this will mean duplication of permissions,” he said.

It is not just traders in the retail and wholesale fertiliser business who will need licences to deal in the crucial agricultural input, but other players in the value chain as well.

“The regulations also talk about licensing at the county level but we already apply for the single business permit, and now we have to apply for another permit,” said Kantaria.

“All these add bureaucracy and cost for business and we do not understand its benefit. It is a duplication of roles between various authorities.”

Kantaria said there is lack of clarity on who will be the lead authority and what happens when one authority approves and the other rejects. “It adds more bureaucracy, paperwork and fees.”

He added that the regulations might have the impact of slowing down innovation in the sector as they propose that companies register with the board all blends of fertilisers that they make.

Fertiliser producers and blenders usually have numerous varieties as blends are specific to a farm.

Kantaria said that while the industry is not averse to regulation, many new laws that have been proposed in the recent past aimed at regulating agriculture and the country could be on regulatory overkill.

“There are 39 separate regulations and rules for agriculture that have been proposed in the recent past that are at different stages, some of them already at the implementation phase,” he said.

“There is great need to consolidate some of these new regulations.”

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