Why I strongly oppose Murang’a avocado bill

Senator Irungu Kangata ,Muranga County Senator and

Deputy Chief Whip, Senate

Murang’a County Government has introduced in it’s assembly   Murang’a County Avocado Production, Processing and Marketing Bill 2020 dated 20th Feb 2020  for debate and possible enactment .

Irungu Kang’ata, Murang’a Senator and Deputy Chief Whip,Senate  

Avocados are commercially valuable and are cultivated in tropical climates  throughout the world. Commercially, they ripen after harvesting. Avocado trees are partially self-pollinating  and are often propagated through grafting  to maintain predictable fruit quality and quantity. In 2017, Mexico  produced 34% of the world supply of avocados.

Kenya is an emerging good  producer of the fruit .

Muranga County currently produces  about 80% of the total avocado production in Kenya  .

The reason for this is because of it’s climate .The subtropical  species needs a climate without frost and with little wind. High winds reduce the humidity, dehydrate the flowers, and affect pollination. When even a mild frost occurs, premature fruit drop may occur, although the Hass can tolerate temperatures down to −1 °C. The trees also need well-aerated soils, ideally more than 1 m deep.

According to experts ,it takes an average of approximately 70 litres (18 US gal) of applied fresh ground or surface water, not including rainfall or natural moisture in the soil, to grow one avocado. These conditions are present in Murang’a.

I am opposed to this bill for various reasons.I will only highlight few clauses due to limitation of space .

First,if passed the bill  will  introduce several permits  which various avocado stakeholders will have to procure from the County government .These permits will have to be paid for .

Clause 6 will compel Avocado nursery operators to obtain a county permit.Clause 7 will compel nursery operators  to renew the permit annually   .Clause  9 will compel nursery operators to keep statistical returns .Clause 14 and 16  will compel Murang’a avocado retailers,transporters  ,traders and distributors to register  with the county  and obtain  permits.These permits are harmful in several  ways .The fees in respect to each envisaged category of permit  may  be out of reach to many poor Muranga farmers, retailers,transporters   and traders.The fees are  not set out in the bill in express terms  .Muranga County Finance bill is expected to state actual  amounts . There is every likelihood those fees will be exorbitant .

Murang’a Avocado farmers  will have to load this extra expense into their selling price hence make Avocados from Muranga noncompetitive .Further ,this proposal  introduces bureaucracy in the value chain .Muranga County has not automated its permit issuance systems .Therefore ,farmers will have   to cover distance to  where county offices are located to procure these permits .This  will cause delays  for such a perishable commodity.  

Second ,it negates ideals of a free market . For example ,clause 17 of the bill will compel a farmer to procure a movement permit.This  will make avocado business in Muranga lengthy and laborious . Farmers in Muranga  purchases the avocado seedling,tenders it to maturity and does the harvesting using his or her  own resources .It follows therefore  he or she  should have the freedom to decide to whom to sell to and when to plant or uproot the tree  without Murang’a County government interference .Other counties  will make avocado business easy and Muranga farmers  will lose .

Third ,clause 15 will  compel all farmers  cooperatives and associations to be registered with the county.It envisages the county will register a farmers cooperative  .

It is a noble idea to pool small scale farmers into a co-operative to harness economies of scale.However , farmers that decide to form a parallel associations  outside county management  should not be compelled to register with the county  .There is  likely-hood  county will use this power to deny farmers parallel association and create a monopolistic  market for its cooperative .

Chances of mismanagement of such a monopolistic cooperative  are high since it will not have competition which compels it to innovate .Government owned businesses generally in the world do bad  save where there are  very high ethical standards underpinning state-led market   like in China .Several government run entities have all collapsed  in Kenya .Muranga County milk factory in Maragwa is a very noble idea which currently has problems  .

Murang’a county public enterprises should be  run by competent professionals recruited  fairly and openly so that the best brains can be employed .So far,there is nothing to suggest this is what the county intends to do.

Fourth ,the bill grants powers that are already vested by law upon Agricultural  and Foods Authorities (AFA ) .For example ,Clause 28 of the bill proposes to set import and export standards for the fruit .This is the work of AFA hence it is a duplication of roles .

Fifth,the proposed penalties under the said bill are too punitive .Clause 39 of the bill proposes to impose a penalty of Ksh 500,000 or 2 years imprisonment or both for a violation of any clause of the bill  where the penalty is not specified .

Sixth ,the bill if passed will enlarge the size of Muranga  county government unnecessarily .Counties in Kenya have been expending  monies in recurrent expenditure rather development .This makes counties to be under developed  .Clause  30 creates an entity called Mediation Committee .Salaries and allowances  for the members of this organ undermines the fiscal goal of setting aside more funds for developing Murang’a .

In conclusion ,this bill should be  withdrawn .Second ,the county should  undertake  consultative forums comprised of all elected leaders ,avocado farmers representatives and other stakeholders .The forums  should  discuss  ideas on how avocado business in Muranga  can be enhanced .

Third,the  county government should set aside some funds to support research.This should include researching  ways of combating Avocado  diseases .In particular  ,there is a disease called blackspot which is making Muranga County avocado lose its edge  .Preliminary findings suggests it is caused by Murang’a Avocado trees having little calcium .If indeed this is the case,Muranga county should  purchase  organic calcium  and distribute to its  farmers .

The governor has suggested that he intends to use the law to introduce minimum guaranteed return for Avocado  .This is an excellent idea that can be implemented without  enactment of this bill.He can use Muranga County  Finance Bill 2020 to set aside funds to achieve this .If for instance he  can buy  one hass avocado at Ksh 50,no one would sell his or her avocado to the so-called  brokers whom he seems to have an issue with  .

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