Farmers must drive crop value chain reforms in these five Bills

The Ministry of Agriculture has 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 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 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 meant to increase farmers’ income in line with the Big Four 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.

The proposed laws are seeking to revamp key agricultural crop value chains, and provide a legal framework for their regulation by specialised 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 specialised 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. 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.

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 reorganise 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.

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. 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.

Fourth, the Bills 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. ‘Cartelisation’ of key crops like coffee and tea has perennially denied farmers a voice and good returns on their produce.  

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.

-The writer is a lawyer and public affairs consultant.  [email protected]