President Kibaki's assent to three key agricultural bills sets the stage for the most far-reaching changes in the sector since independence.
By consenting to The Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food Authority Bill 2012, The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Bill 2012, and the Crops Bill 2012, he now sets the stage for the consolidation of functions of a number of allied ministries, the scrapping or merging of non-core state corporations and the commercialisation of profit-making ones.
His signature has unified the 131 laws that have governed the sector and essentially removed from the law books the ubiquitous Agriculture Act, an 80-year old piece of legislation long blamed for the dismal performance of agriculture. The colonial regime created the statute to promote European farming at the expense of indigeneous Kenyans.
The new laws, passed by Parliament during its final sittings, seek to transform farming into a professional, well-paying, internationally competitive and attractive to the youth. The agricultural sector is to drive Vision 2030.
Depending on the preference of the next Government in setting its Cabinet, the ten allied ministries can now be collapsed into one or two, as envisaged in the initial drafts by the Agricultural Sector Coordination Unit , a multi-ministerial agency that has overseen reforms in the sector.
The ten subsectors are: Agriculture; Livestock; Land; Fisheries Development; Environment and Mineral Resources; Water Resources and Irrigation; Regional Development Authorities; Cooperative Development; Forest and Wildlife; and Development of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Areas.
Among parastatals facing the axe is the 63-year old Cereals and Sugar Finance Corporation. It is in debts, and its operation has often been questioned by Parliament. In fact, its liquidation has been inexplicably pending for over ten years.
Others are Sisal Board, Cotton Board, National cereals and Produce board, Coffee Board, Tea Board, Kenya Sugar Board, Pyrethrum Board, and Coconut Development Authority, Kenya Plant Plant Health Inspectorate Service, and Horticultural Crops Development Authority.
Their functions will be taken over by a new powerful body, the Agriculture, Livestock and Food Authority. The Dairy Board, Kenya Meat Commission, Pig Industry Board, Pests Control Board, Kenya National Artificial Insemination Centre, will collapse into a Livestock Authority.
The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute will merge with other research institutions, including Kenya Triponomias Research Institute, Kenya Forestry Research Institute , Coffee Research Foundation, Tea Research Foundation, Kenya Sugar Research Foundation to form The Kenya Agricultural Research Organisation.
The agricultural sector comprises over 60 parastatals. Already, reforms implemented in the last ten years have seen about 20 parastatals scrapped. "Some of the parastatals reproduce the work of others," says Dr Sally Kosgei, Minister for Agriculture.
Take the example of the Cereals and Sugar Finance Corporation; established by Parliament to raise money to lend to Government agencies for the purchase and production of grains and cereals. It is still in business despite the fact that the Government declared it insolvent about ten years ago.
"The corporation is dormant and technically insolvent," said the Auditor General's report 2008/9. As early as 1976, Parliament had singled it out among the corrupt parastatals.
According to the new laws, profit-making parastatals will run as companies. "Every (parastatal) that carried out any commercial activity with the objective of making profit have twelve months to transform into a company and be registered as a company under the Companies Act so as to enable (it) carry on commercial activity."
The new law s discount any fears about job losses. "Any person who, at the commencement of this Act, is a member of staff of a former institution shall, on the appointed day, become a member of staff of ALFA on the same or improved terms and conditions of service as may be specified by the Cabinet Secretary", the Act states.