Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria Friday stormed a meeting organised by avocado brokers and Senator Irungu Kangata over the Avocado Processing and Marketing Bill, which seeks to regulate the sector.
The meeting at Jogoo Kimakia Hotel in the county was to deliberate on the way forward since the middlemen feels the bill seeks to lock them out of the avocado industry and were to share their grievances with Senator Kangata.
Joseph Wanjohi, the Avocado Welfare Association of Kenya chairperson, said the bill sponsored by the governor negates free market ideals and should it be approved, so many stakeholders will be locked out of the industry.
“We are heading to High Court to seek orders to have him blocked from interfering with the industry,” Mr Wanjohi said.
Mr Wa Iria said he did not intend to disrupt the meeting but listen to what they wanted to say about the bill.
Mr Kangata has dismissed the bill and has called on the Murang'a County Assembly to oppose it warning it will drive investors away from the market.
While the senator and the middlemen believe that the bill negates the free market ideals because of its proposal to have all the buyers and traders to post their contractual agreement to the county, Mr Wa Iria accuses the senator of working in cahoots with the middlemen to prevent his administration from coming up with measures to protect avocado farmers from exploitation.
“The bill imposes requirements for registration of avocado nurseries, licence to uproot a tree, avocado movement permit and it compels farmers to join cooperatives while buyers will have a permit from the county government, failing which one will be fined Sh2 million or imprisoned for two years. The requirements negate free market ideals and will make the cost of doing avocado business to go up, hence making the fruits from Murang’a expensive,” the senator said.
According to the senator, the bill micromanages farmers, infringing on their independence in land use while it seeks to duplicate what the Agriculture and Food Authority (Afa) is legally mandated to do. He says this has the potential of impacting negatively on the farmers.
“Duplication of licensing provisions already in place will make the cost of doing business higher and will occasion the risk of lower returns for the farmers and will compel buyers to move to other counties,” the senator said.
But Wa Iria has denied the senator’s allegations and has instead accused him of being used by brokers to stand in his way of redeeming farmers from the yoke of middlemen who, he said, have been unfairly benefiting from the sweat of avocado farmers for decades.
“The senator is malicious and is acting as the agent for brokers who have been enjoying the sweat of farmers. The bill exclusively seeks to protect our innocent and ignorant farmers from middlemen while ensuring that all those interested in buying the fruits from farmers are well known people to avoid con-games. The bill will also ensure that farmers get the minimum guaranteed farm gate prices as well as introducing a grading system to ensure that the fruits are paid for in accordance with the grades,” he said.
He trashed claims that free market ideals will be interfered with.
The governor defended the proposal for permits, saying the move will ensure traceability of the fruits from the farms to the markets.
The heat emanating from the bill has been so intense that the Murang’a County Assembly decided to defer it to allow stakeholders to iron out contentious issues.
County Assembly Speaker Nduati Kariuki said the Bill, which was to be tabled for the second reading, will await consultations to remove the contentious issues and to retain the best clauses that favour farmers and other stakeholders.
“We have decided to defer the second reading of the Bill to pave way for consultations and engagements after receiving several petitions from our people. We want to look at the bill constructively so that [we ensure ] it contains what will benefit farmers and remove what is contentious. We don’t want to throw away the baby together with the bath water,” he told the Nation on the phone.
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The bill requires a farmer to apply for a licence whenever he or she wants to cut down an avocado tree and also requires all stakeholders wishing to transport the fruits to apply for a permit while those who intend to operate a nursery will have to apply for a certificate of registration which will be renewed annually.
The Bill introduces penalties such as revocation, suspension, varying of registration, license or permit and also a term or a fine not exceeding Sh1 million or both.
It also seeks to introduce zoning of ecological areas where, through a Gazette notice, the county government will prescribe, ban and announce the harvesting dates. It says those found guilty of contravening the directive will be jailed for two years or pay a Sh2 million fine.