Kenya: Return of Agriculture Agencies as Death Knell Sounds for Food Authority

20 October 2020

The end is nigh for the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) after a slew of government Bills that propose the return of various regulatory institutions, barely six years since they were dissolved.

The latest is the Coffee Draft Bill 2020 , which is among the five proposed laws that the government wants enacted to spearhead President Uhuru Kenyatta's food security agenda that is part of his Big Four plan for the country.

The Bill seeks to reintroduce coffee levies that were abolished in 2014 through the creation of a technical board and a stakeholder council.

If it becomes law, the National Treasury will introduce a coffee research levy of not more than 1 per cent of the gross coffee proceeds to support research at the Coffee Research Institute (CRI) and extension services in the country.

More than 50 per cent of CRI's funding was derived from the Coffee Research Levy, which was 2 per cent of gross proceeds but the levy was abolished in 2014 when the food authority, which controls an annual budget of Sh3 billion, came into force.

The drafting of the Bill follows recommendations of the Agriculture and Livestock Committee of the National Assembly that exposed the rot at the former Coffee Research Institute.

No politics

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said the board would remove politics from value chain management. The council shall represent the interests of the sector.

"These are some of the legal reforms that the government wants to inject into the agricultural sector to boost productivity, competitiveness, as well as ensure that farmers' incomes are enhanced," said Mr Munya.

Early this year, the Cabinet endorsed the separation of the directorates into independent institutions through enactment of key Bills -- Coffee Bill, Miraa, Pyrethrum and Industrial Crops Bill, Horticulture Crops Authority Bill, Fibre Crops Development Bill, and the Food Crops Development Bill.

The Sugar and Tea Bills are already at an advanced stage in the National Assembly with CS Munya noting that since AFA came into force, the country's cash crops have not got the attention they deserve.

"We need to fast-track the agriculture sector growth through these reforms," said the CS.

The proposed laws seek to reintroduce the Kenya Sugar Board, Tea Board of Kenya, Coffee Board of Kenya, Pyrethrum Board of Kenya, Sisal Board of Kenya, Coconut Development Authority, Cotton Development Authority and Horticultural Crops Development Authority.

These boards were coalesced under AFA six years ago on the recommendations of a task force on state corporations in the country, which led to the enactment of the Crops Act in 2013.

The move that led to the creation of AFA was meant to revamp the Agricultural sector as well as ensure efficiency but little has been achieved.

For instance, a visit to the Coffee Research Institute in Ruiru by the parliamentary committee revealed an institution in a sorry state of affairs.

The committee established that the coffee farm faces challenges including coffee berry disease, absentee employees, delayed employee salaries, lack of farm inputs including pesticides, lack of planting seedlings, lack of funding, ghost coffee estates without ongoing operations.

It is these problems that saw farmers abandon the crop and turned to other ventures.

The committee noted that the abandonment saw the land under coffee growing areas of Nakuru, Laikipia, West Pokot, Kericho, Vihiga, Kirinyaga, Bungoma, Kiambu, Kakamega, Busia, Trans Nzoia, Taita Taveta, Tharaka Nithi, Nyamira, Homa Bay, Kisumu among others, reduce from 170,000 hectares to about 109,795.

Fast-tracking

Moiben MP Silas Tiren, who chairs the Agriculture Committee, says that his committee will fast-track the Bills once they are introduced in the House.

"We serve for the interests of the people and we will strive to ensure that farmers get value for the efforts they employ on their farms. The cartels and middlemen have only served to make life more unbearable for the poor peasant farmers," said Mr Tiren.

According to the economic survey of 2019, coffee production areas and revenue earned in the country has been dwindling from 2014 to 2018.

In 2014, the country produced 49,500 tons valued at Sh16.6 billion, in 2015 about 42,000 tons were realized fetching Sh12.1 billion, about Sh16.19 billion were realized in 2016 from 46,100 tons, in 2017 at least Sh16 billion from 38,700 tons and Sh14.83 billion in 2018 from 41,400 tons.

The drafting of the Coffee Bill is also based on the national task force report on Coffee sub sector reforms.

The reforms centered on funding CRI to expand production of Coffee seed and planting material and cooperatives to establish and distribute coffee planting mainly for the new varieties- Ruiru 11 and Batian.

There is also the creation of a financial kitty to support research to be nested in CRI, and financial and technical support amounting to Sh350 million to the state department of Cooperatives, CRI, Nairobi Coffee Exchange and the Coffee Directorate.

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