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Proposed law on avocados causes storm in Mt Kenya

Sunday March 8 2020

A farmer inspecting his avocados

A farmer inspecting his avocado fruits. A Bill on avocado trade sponsored by Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria’s administration has raised a storm in Mt Kenya region. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

NDUNG’U GACHANE
By NDUNG’U GACHANE
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A Bill on avocado trade sponsored by Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria’s administration has raised a storm in Mt Kenya region.

This is after a section of the leaders and avocado brokers rejected it, saying it is draconian and that it seek to negate the free market ideals.

The Murang’a County Avocado Procession and Marketing Bill, 2020 seeks to provide for the development, regulation and promotion of the avocado industry through the establishment of a directorate to regulate the production post-harvest, handling and marketing of the avocados and its by-products.

GROWER'S CERTIFICATE

If it becomes law, it will compel avocados farmers, traders and manufactures to obtain a certificate for growing, selling and contractual agreements before engaging in the buying of avocado fruits.

The directorate, whose members will be appointed by the governor or the county executive member for Agriculture, will be announcing the minimum guaranteed farm gate prices upon the announcement of harvesting dates and will also be responsible with vetting contracts entered between growers and other stakeholders.

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The bill also requires a farmer to apply for a license whenever he or she wants to cut down an avocado tree. It also requires all stakeholders wishing to transport avocados 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.

PENALTIES

The Bill introduces penalties such as revocation, suspension, varying of registration, license or permit and also a jail term and a fine for failure to comply with the proposed law.

It also seeks to introduce zoning of ecological areas for avocado growing, give the county government powers to prescribe, ban and announce harvesting dates. Those in contravention risk being jailed for two years or pay a Sh2 million fine.

But in reaction, a section of leaders from Mt Kenya led by Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, MPs Alice Wahome (Kandara) Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira) and Moses Kuria (Gatundu South) have rejected the Bill, saying it is draconian and retrogressive as it seeks to create a monopoly in the avocado sector.

GOING TO COURT

At the same time, the Avocado Welfare Association of Kenya, through its Chairman Joseph Wanjohi, has announced that it is heading to court to stop the Bill, claiming that will lock its members out of the market.

“The Bill is outrageous null and void. If we agree with a farmer that I will buy his or her avocado at 50 cents, Wa Iria has no moral obligation to interfere with the agreement. We are now heading to the High Court to seek orders to have him blocked from interfering with the industry,” Mr Wanjohi told the Nation by phone.

According to the middlemen, Mr Wa Iria wants to control the market out of his own interests by introducing laws that they describe as draconian and colonial.

“We are ready to pay the ultimate price to prevent Mr Wa Iria from preventing us from doing the business. We shall oppose any plan to have the farmers join cooperatives because – that’s how the coffee, tea and milk sectors went down,” Mr Wanjohi said.

FREE MARKET

Senator Kang’ata also believes that the Bill negates the free market ideals because of its proposal to have all the buyers and traders to register their contractual agreement with the county government.

“The Bill imposes requirements for registration of avocado nurseries, license to uproot a tree, avocado movement permit and it compels farmers to join cooperatives while buyers will have the permit from the county government failure to which the stakeholders will be fined Sh2 million or imprisoned for two years. The requirements negate the free market ideals and make the cost of doing avocado business to go up hence making the fruits from Murang’a expensive,” the senator said.

MICROMANAGE FARMERS

According to Mr Kang’ata, the proposed law will micromanage farmers as far as independence of land is concerned use while it seeks to duplicate what the Agriculture and Food Authority (Afa) is legally mandated to do, a move he opines has the potential of impacting negatively on the farmers.

“Duplications of licensing provisions by Afa already in place will make the cost of doing business higher and will occasion the risk of lower returns to the farmers and will compel buyers to move to other counties,” the senator said.

Mr Kuria and Mr Gachagua have also condemned the, Bill saying Governor Wa Iria cannot dictate the prices of avocados in Murang’a or anywhere else.

“The Bill must be rejected in its original form. If Mr Wa Iria wants to control the prices, he can only plant his fruits. He has no right to interfere with the market – it’s a willing seller willing buyer,” Mr Kuria said.

MINIMUM GUARANTEED RETURNS

But in reaction to the objections raised, Mr Wa Iria has wondered why the leaders are up in arms against the Bill yet they have been pushing for the introduction of minimum guaranteed returns for other crops such as coffee, tea and milk.

The governor has accused the leaders of working in cahoots with brokers to suppress avocado farmers.

“It is ridiculous that the representatives of the people who are largely farmers have turned out to be protectors and defenders of brokers who have been milking avocado farmers dry. Even if I’m in this war alone, I will emerge victorious. Some of them have been pushing for introduction of minimum guaranteed prices from coffee milk and tea but when it comes to avocados, they don’t want that to happen. They have incited locals against the Bill but I will arrange meetings with the farmers to set the record straight,’ Mr Wa Iria said.

WELCOMED BILL

Some farmers have welcomed the Bill, describing it as long overdue, saying it seeks to protect their sweat from unscrupulous dealers who do no farming but benefit from their toil.

“The Bill proposes for a structured business between the interested buyers and traders and the minimum guaranteed farm gate prices will ensure that we are sure that our fruits will earn us money. The introduction of market centres and the grading system will also see that farmers who look after their crop will benefit from their sweat,” Margaret Wanjiru said.

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