At the end of the day, we must plan to get rid of mama mboga
New rules set to outlaw produce hawking, boost markets by Business Daily, Proposed farm produce regulations spell doom for mama mboga by Soko Directory and Death Of ‘Mama Mboga’? by K24 were some of the headlines we were treated to when information reached the media houses that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority (AFFA) intends to implement the Crops Act of 2013. Among other things, the Crops Act 2013 require food vendors to sell their products only at designated market places, provide proof to inspectors that food crops on sale were harvested at maturity, and ensure that food items on display are sorted, graded, processed, packaged, labelled, transported, and stored as per the standards specified by AFFA.
Under the regulations, traders must obtain licences from AFFA to grow, transport, store, process or trade in agricultural produce. Importers and exporters of agricultural produce must be registered by the sector regulator and operate strictly as specified in their licensing conditions.
The rules require counties, working in collaboration with the AFFA, to issue a movement permit to enable trans-shipment of food crops across the country.
Such licences, the draft rules state, can be revoked in cases where the agency feels the holder has not complied with food safety standards and traceability. Wrote Business Daily.
The news that AFFA intends to implement the Crops Act 2013 angered Kenyans, and as usual they went to twitter to complain, making the hashtag #Mamamboga be a trending topic for two days. We also participated in the debate by publishing the article, SUNDAY DIGEST – The hypocrisy of our national leadership and the elitist ‘mama mboga’ bill.
The reasons we, together with other Kenyans, are against the implementation of the Crops Act 2013 include the fact that we get our sukuma wiki, cabbages and kienyeji cut ready for cooking, the ease with which we can access mama mboga within the estates, the credit arrangement we have with mama mboga, and the employment opportunity we have given the thousands of mama mbogas across the country. But an economy that depends on mama mboga trade is not going to sail through a highly complex, automated and global business environment. Kenya, just like any other fast growing economy, must put in place policies that implements formal commerce at all levels of economic activities, and we must start by changing how we practice agriculture.
THE PROBLEMS WITH THE CURRENT AGRICULTURAL SETUP IN KENYA
The Wikipedia article about Kenya recognizes that Agriculture sector is the most important for Kenya’s economy, but is the least developed “and largely inefficient, employing 75% of the workforce compared to less than 3% in the food secure developed countries.” The title of a recent article by World Economic Forum posed a question, “Why are most of the world’s hungry people farmers?” WEF tried to answer that by pointing out that “lack of investment, poor infrastructure to bring food to market, and unfair trade policies” mean small scale farmers will continue to be the poorest people on earth. “Small farmers in poor countries who don’t have fertilizers, equipment, consistent land access or proper roads to store and distribute their crops can’t compete with heavily subsidised, well capitalised, industrial producers”, WEF explained.
I posed the same question to three of my friends namely Fredrick Ombako, Kennedy Kachwanya and Fredrick Omondi. Fred Ombako mentioned that “most of the poor are in the rural Kenya … yet, our economic development plans are based at the highest level (JKIA expansion, technocities, etc).” To salvage the situation, Mr. Ombako noted that “Our development priorities must focus on rural development. We need to lift these rural poor out of poverty as they feel the most effects of hunger”. To ensure that the trend where farmers are no longer the poorest, Kachwanya first pointed out that “The Kenyan setting is such that there is high population increase in every village, the Community land is subdivided and subdivided further. At the end, there is no tangible land for farming” then suggested for the government “to create urban centers and encourage people to move to them and leave land for farming”. Fred Omondi also noted that “further subdivision of land is no longer tenable, from economies of scale standpoint and also legal administration view.” He went ahead to say that “the populace should support efforts that genuinely tries to consolidate land administration into sizeable chunks that can be utilized for purposes of commercially viable Agricultural production.”
In September last year The Standard reported of a study conducted by the Catholic Church’s Jesuit Hakimani Centre (JHC) that warned the government against land subdivision in Kenya and its effect on Agriculture. According JHC, “the culture of inheriting and subdividing the land among siblings…has made land almost too small for significant production. In addition, huge amounts of rich agricultural land are being turned into real estate.” Basically, what everyone is saying is that small scale farming is no longer sustainable in Kenya and elsewhere.
One of the attempts by the country to address the issue of land ownership is the implementation of the 2010 Constitution. The Constitution prescribe that:
(c) enact legislation–
i) to prescribe minimum and maximum land holding acreages in respect of private land;
Paul Wambua wrote an expert article in The Standard titled “Now is the time to determine minimum, maximum land sizes” in which he recognized that “there are piecemeal efforts by county governments to regulate land sizes within their jurisdictions” but “there is clearly lack of goodwill to come up with a method of determining land sizes, perhaps because of the sensitivity of the matter.” Mr. Wambua also noted that the lack of goodwill to regulate land sizes has “given counties a free hand in exercising the provisions of the Urban Areas and Cities Act 2012 and the Physical Planning Act 1996 without clear justification. Their efforts, nonetheless, have been successfully challenged in the corridors of justice by the landowners as well as other stakeholders”.
The matter of land jurisdiction and determining the minimum and maximum land sizes is indeed sensitive, mainly because majority of Kenyan cultures put a lot of value on land. Investing in land, to almost every Kenyan, is the ultimate investment a person can do – probably followed by housing. But for the country to develop, the politicians and policy makers must find a radical way of facing this economic elephant headon to enforce the necessary changes needed to transform agriculture from a peasant culture to an industrialized commercial enterprise.
The changes in the agriculture sector should be made such that no more than 10% of the population is employed by the sector. The sure thing that can bring that change in the sector is to set a minimum limit of land ownership to, let’s say, 100 acres. Once no one can own land less than 100 acres, most people will abandon their small sized lands to settle at urban and semi-urban settlement centres to be involved in other economic activities, forcing them out of agriculture.
The next solution will be to ensure that each person owning land must put it to use. As noted by Mr. Wambua, it’s not just the issue of subdividing land that is the cause of food shortage, but that those who have grabbed huge chunks of land have rendered them idle. If you happen to travel across the country, anywhere, you will practically see huge chunks of idle land that on the surface, appear as land that can be used for some agricultural or other economically viable activities.
Thus when the not more than 10% of Kenyans own the huge chunks of land and put them to productive use, they will be required to engage in agriculture in a scientific, structured and commercial centered manner. Apart from being required to utilize the most modern technologies in their farming activities, they will be the ones needed to comply with the Crops Act 2013 to ensure that they not only grow food that are healthy, but also sell them to designated markets where the food commodities are harvested at maturity, sorted, graded, processed, packaged, labelled, transported, and stored as per the standards specified by AFFA.
Once food production is 100% commercialized right from production, distribution to retail, it will be pointless for us to still encourage the existence of mama mboga. By industrializing and commercializing agriculture, the economy will boom and majority of our beloved mama mbogas and a million other youth will form enterprises for research, management and related development projects to make the agricultural sector a more booming industry.
As a country, we should strive to have an economy that doesn’t depend on mama mboga and the million other jua kali artisans.