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 .
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 .