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Meru leaders and farmers divided on how to use Sh1 billion allocations

COUNTIES
By WAINAINA NDUNG'U | April 27th 2016

A schism has emerged in Meru five days after President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to the amended Crops Act that gave miraa a legal backing.

Local leaders and farmers are divided on exactly what the Sh1 billion allocation to the sub-sector should be used for.

The focus has turned to how the funds will be used since the sub-sector has no organised structures and lacks systems to identify who would benefit from direct grants, subsidies or agronomy support.

The Meru County government is watching from the sidelines because the president was clear the funds would be channelled through the State Ministry of Agriculture.

Dr Kobia Ataya, the political adviser to Governor Peter Munya, said Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett will decide how the money is cascaded to miraa farmers but "God knows how or what structures he would use to do that."

"Ultimately, even if they formed a new agency for miraa, it would be illegal because agriculture is devolved but we want to accept that this allocation was done for political expediency," said Dr Ataya.

Suggested option

Most leaders in Meru suggested that the funds be used to capitalise a marketing co-operative society or a board similar to the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya or the former Tea Board of Kenya.

Meru Woman Representative Florence Kajuju suggested the funds be used to capitalise a board while South Imenti MP Kathuri Murungi suggested that the funds be used to capitalise a marketing co-operative society.

Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi said the funds should be used to support miraa production, marketing and value addition but was hazy about the structures to be adopted.

"The board would work to find new markets as the Government engages diplomatically to regain the European market. Countries such as Congo and Zambia and other potential markets should be engaged," said Ms Kajuju.

Mr Murungi said comprehensive leaders' consultations and adequate public participation must precede the use of the funds, and the county government should be involved since it was a key stakeholder.

"Ultimately, we must insist the kitty helps the farmer who is more affected by the collapsed markets than middlemen and traders who are still making a killing in the sector," said Murungi.

Another leader and miraa farmer James Mithika also called for the formation of a miraa marketing board through a presidential a gazette notice.

Being one of these who had gone to court to block the appointment of three representatives to the disbanded task force, Dr Mithika said they would insist that a reconstituted task force or new board has true representatives of farmers, traders and activists.

"My feeling is only a board can adequately carry out the mandate of research, marketing and value addition on miraa as it would be able to stay above fractious local politics.

He, however, observed that the change of law was a landmark action saying a similar action in 1969 after an appeal to first President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta had led to the repeal of Cap 339 of 1942 that had outlawed the cultivation of the crop and enabled the sector to find lucrative African markets.

But former Ntonyiri MP Maoka Maore, who is also a miraa farmer, aptly captured the mood in the cultivation regions.

"By injecting the Sh1 billion into the sub-sector, the Government has spoken in a very loud voice," he said adding that "we are all now trying to decipher the message that the Government has passed".

Mr Maore, however, sounded a warning saying farmers in the region needed assurance that Government intervention did not necessarily mean interference.

"The truth is once you get Government money, you are responsible to the auditor general and as we know many Government agencies in the agricultural sector are not that tidy," said Maore.

The former legislator said he believed the way forward could only be best articulated by a broadly constituted task force even if it would deplete a significant proportion of the Sh1 billion allocation.

"We are also waiting to see whether the allocation is in addition to the Sh600 million allocated to the stillborn task force or whether that was part of the new fund," he added.

Pointing out the potential harm that the funds could cause the sector, he urged the Government to stay away from regulation but encourage self-regulation, noting that as a farm-gate crop, the sub-sector lacks the structures to bring traders and farmers to pursue similar objectives.

Desmus Kithinji, a miraa farmer from Nkomo in Tigania West, warned leaders to manage the expectations of some farmers on the ground who were waiting for handouts from the allocation.

"While this is not plausible, I would advocate the election of growers and traders committees from the grassroots up to county level who would manage the funds rather than give elected leaders an open cheque," said Mr Kithinji.

Ms Doris Kinya, another farmer from Antuambui ward in Igembe North, said growers were wise enough not to expect liquid cash from the allocation but that they were hopeful it would improve fortunes for their crop. But she expressed fear that leaders could squander most of the funds.

Mike Mutembei, the patron of the Africa Disabled Network who also leads the Miraa Traders and Farmers Association, said the Sh1 billion is not enough.

Not satisfied

Mutembei said miraa famers are not satisfied because the only way of mitigating against the ban of the crop in European markets is to regain the lost markets and get additional ones for the crop, the mainstay of the Nyambene region, which has about 500,000 acres under the crop.

"We don't want a situation where our people are hoodwinked into voting for people because they have offered us support now, but abandon us after next year's election," said Mutembei. "New markets must be found quickly, because our people are suffering."

Separately, Rajesh Hilani, who styles himself as the Green Gold ambassador, thanked the president for the gesture and urged the Meru governor and his Nairobi counterpart Evans Kidero to name some local landmarks after the crop.

"I reiterate my plea to the president to allow me a courtesy call where I can present him with the best type of miraa seedlings to plant in the vast State House gardens," said Hilani.

 

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