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How regulation of key food crops is giving Kenyan farmers a better deal

Q&A: Beatrice Nyamwamu, the Director-General of Kenya’s Agriculture and Food Authority, speaks to PanAfrican Agriculture about the agency’s achievements and challenges enforcing rules in the country’s crop sector and her own role in reforms credited with shielding farmers from exploitation.

Briefly tell us about yourself, who is Beatrice Nyamwamu?

I am a Kenyan citizen, born in the highlands of Kisii County and a staunch Adventist. I hold a Master’s degree in Agriculture Resource Management from the University of Nairobi. I have worked in the public sector for a period of 25 years in various capacities with a competency in agriculture policy and legislation, food security and safety analysis and a diverse experience and knowledge in the public sector management. Additionally, I am a mother of two sons.

What is the mandate of AFA?

Our mandate, as a State corporation, is to regulate the crops sector in Kenya to ensure compliance with standards, and codes of practice. Regulation fosters a thriving competitive environment where innovation, technological progress, order and quality flourish, for sustainable economic growth. We administer the Crops Act No.16 of 2013 to promote best practices in the production, processing, marketing, grading, storage, collection, transportation and warehousing of agricultural products; collect and collate data, maintain a database on agricultural products, document and monitor agriculture through registration of players.

The authority is also responsible for determining the research priorities in agriculture and advising the national government and the county governments on agricultural levies for purposes of planning, enhancing harmony and equity in the sector.

AFA is also mandated to recommend general and specific policies for the development of scheduled crops as well as monitoring and disseminating market information, including identification of the local supply demand situation, domestic market matching and overseas market intelligence and promotion activities on scheduled crops.

We promote the establishment of agricultural produce collection centres in viable areas to serve as buying stations of farm products, packaging houses, pick-up points and meeting places of farmers’ and growers’ cooperatives plus establishing linkages with various governments and private research institutions for the conduct of studies and researches designed to promote the production, marketing and processing of scheduled crops.

We also devise and maintain a system for regularly obtaining information on current and future production, prices and movement in trade; establish and enforce standards in grading, sampling and inspection, tests and analysis, specifications, units of measurement, code of practice and packaging, preservation, conservation and transportation of crops to ensure health and proper trading and to promote and advise on strategies for value addition for scheduled crops.

Lastly, we recommend general industry agreements between farmers and scheduled crops value chain players and also prescribe the minimum period within which farmers are to be paid for crops delivered and penalties for delayed payments.

Directorate, what would you say was your legacy in that docket?

The Food Crops Directorate was formed during the merging of the former regulatory boards in the crops sector into AFA. The food crops subsector was hitherto unregulated since independence and I spearheaded the development and gazettement of the Crops (Irish Potato) regulations, 2019 and the Crops (Food crops) regulations, 2019 through coordination of a multisectoral team comprising both private and public sector professionals.

I also led the process of operationalising the same regulations by building capacity of the county and AFA officers in the directorate, development of the operationalisation manuals and training of crops inspectors to ensure compliance to the legal framework. During my time at the directorate I was a member of the multiagency National Food Safety Taskforce which drafted the Food Safety Coordination Bill and the development of an aflatoxin prevention and management framework in Kenya, focusing majorly on co-regulations and self-regulation procedures.

Why were the food crop regulations necessary?

The regulations were necessary after realising that farmers were being exploited due to a lack of official controls and exploitation of farmers along the food crop value chains as well as inadequate enforcement of standards in the local markets, with the exception of the food crops manufacturing sector.

Inadequate use of best practices from farm to fork, which contributed to high post-harvest losses, poor quality produce in the market and flooding of produce and products from imports at the expense of local production were some of reasons for developing the two regulations. With these regulations now in place, we have seen investment in the subsector by the county governments, private sector and donors such as in the infrastructure, potato cold chains, and subsidy of inputs to farmers.

Donors such as IFAD have now come in to offer structured support to farmers and farmer associations. The issue of food safety is also being addressed through identification, nomination and gazettement of crop inspectors. Counties and AFA now conduct inspections and surveillance of produce, warehouses and processing plants, inspections and sampling of imports at point of entries. There is also enhancement of traceability of produce. There is a more structured engagement with processors such as millers especially Cereal Millers Association (CMA) who are very supportive in championing the food safety agenda.

These regulations have also led to sanity in the industry as pertains packaging Irish potatoes in 50kg bags. The big extended bags have been phased out of the market.

Marketing of produce such as wheat has been streamlined with registration of marketing agents and strict adherence to the set minimum prices and lastly there is improved data generation and management through automation of the regulations. Regulations for other value chains have been developed and are in implementation phase.

Recently AFA reviewed the avocado maturity indices as well as post-harvest handling process. What led to this and what do you aim to achieve?

According to Codex Alimentarius, the Dry Matter (DM) content for avocadoes should not be below 20 percent, which is the minimum for physiological maturity. The Authority and industry had set the DM at 22 percent, which was not sufficient given the time taken before sampling after harvest. Samples are taken for more than four days of harvesting, giving a false DM. The correct DM should be taken within four hours of harvest. Due to these factors, AFA and industry actors and agreed to increase the DM content to 24 percent. The increase was majorly due to our small-scale production and handling. It takes up to four days to aggregate the fruits and transport to the packhouse. On reaching the packhouse, a considerable amount of moisture is lost, giving a false DM. Fruits which had a moisture content of less than 20 percent could read 23 percent or 24 percent.

During a Kenya Horticulture Industry Taskforce trip to EU in March/April, 2022 France proposed a DM of 24 percent while Belgium proposed 25 percent. Increasing the DM is aimed at helping our avocadoes access these markets among others thus increasing our exports earning. Use of open pick-up trucks and Probox [saloon] cars without crates was impacting negatively on the quality of the avocado fruits. We therefore reviewed post-harvest handling processes together with industry stakeholders and agreed on the use of transport vessels and packhouses.

This is stipulated in The Crops (Horticultural Crops) Regulations 2020, regulation 18, which requires all dealers to package and store produce in appropriate facilities and use transport vessels that maintain optimal temperatures and hygiene to prevent damage, contamination and spoilage of produce.

In the recent past, we have seen some directorates are seeking autonomy once more from AFA. What is informing their sentiment?

The AFA Act, 2013 and the Crops Act, 2013 consolidated several pieces of legislation in the agriculture sector. The AFA Act also repealed various statutes relating to crops. This included abolishment of eight regulatory authorities, which became directorates in AFA. However, Section 11(3) of the AFA Act, 2013 accorded the directorates semi-autonomy in performance of their functions.

Consolidation of the various pieces of legislation into the AFA Act and Crops Act were envisaged to create an enabling legal and regulatory environment for both local and foreign investors to venture into production, processing, marketing and distribution of crops in all parts of the country; bring efficient service delivery, resulting from enhanced synergies, and faster decision-making processes and reduce costs of running the previous institutions through centralized operations.

This consolidation was also to help reduce duplication and overlap of functions among institutions involved in regulation of the crops, circumvent unnecessary regulatory bureaucracy in the sector as well as improve business operational environment and reduce cost of doing business.

The establishment of AFA was supposed to be followed by the development of commodity-specific regulations. This did not take place fast enough as had been envisaged. The Authority could not therefore perform some of its functions as expected. This became a concern for some stakeholders thus the call for the Authority to revert to the previous boards. We have now developed regulations and so far have done well to ensure we deliver on our mandate.

The sugar sector is also facing challenges, with efforts to revive it hitting a snag. What is AFA doing to address the sector’s challenges?

The biggest challenge to the sugar sub-sector is the cost of production. Ninety-four percent of all cane is grown on smallholder farms. Currently average land size for sugar growing for out-grower farms is 0.6 Ha. This makes mechanisation difficult. To address this challenge, AFA is encouraging cane farming in blocks. Most of the sugarcane is grown under rain-fed conditions and at high altitude where water and temperatures are limiting factors.

The crop takes two years to mature and yields are low compared to cane grown in low altitude and under irrigation that take one year. AFA in partnership with some sugar millers has undertaken trials on cane growing under irrigation with good results. One new factory has been completed in Kwale and two additional ones are under development in Kilifi and Garsen.

These will rely on irrigated cane. A big cost to the sugar cane farmer is the cost of land preparation. AFA in partnership with the Sugar Research Institute, some millers and county governments is undertaking validation trials on different land preparation regimes, including minimum and reduced tillage.

Lack of adequate specialised financing for cane farming remains a big challenge. With the reintroduction of the Sugar Development Levy, this will be addressed. It is hoped that the current Senate will conclude the passing of the Sugar Bill to make this a reality. To bring down the cost of seed cane, AFA is collaborating with the Sugar Research Institute on a project to propagate seedlings using the single eye bud chip technology. The research-extension-farmer linkages are weak and as a consequence the dissemination of research recommendations are constrained.

With agriculture being devolved, AFA has been undertaking capacity building of county agriculture extension staff in sugar cane agronomy and good agricultural practices. To assist the inefficient governmentowned sugar factories, AFA made a proposal to the national government that saw Ksh1.5 billion released for factory maintenance and payment to farmers. This has enabled the millers to undertake the long overdue factory rehabilitation thus enabling them to improve their operation efficiency.

AFA has financed installation of 11 cane testing units. This will allow for the introduction of cane payment based on quality. It is anticipated that this will encourage farmers to produce good quality cane for increased incomes. The system will also encourage millers to be efficient and pay farmers promptly.

Kenya hosted the G-25 Africa Coffee Summit mid this year. What were the outcomes of the summit?

The inaugural G25 African Coffee Summit was aimed at marshalling consensus and providing policy directions on anchoring coffee as a trade commodity under the African Union and enhancing trade under the current African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).

It sought to mobilise the necessary political and financial support for enhancing the contribution of coffee in the economy of African countries. The declaration of coffee as a strategic crop under the African Union will go a long way in enhancing the contribution of coffee in the economy of African Countries.

The AfCFTA framework will afford an opportunity for the continent to build a unified market of 1.3 billion people with a potential GDP of US$3.4 trillion across the 55 member states of the AU.

It was also agreed at the summit that there is need to undertake a study on the impact of domestic coffee consumption on the long-term economic growth of coffee-producing countries. Another key resolution was that African countries need to dialogue with EU on regulations regarding clearing of forest land to plant coffee

What are the challenges leading and managing such a big organisation? Do you see any unique challenges as a woman?

The various directorates were former boards with different organisational culture. Developing an organisational culture for the Authority has been a challenge. Our mandate is huge and requires adequate resources, including financial and human resources. There have not been adequate resources to enable the Authority effectively deliver on its mandate.

We have not had a board for a long period of time, which has impacted negatively on strategic decision making. Having worked in the sector all my life, I don’t foresee any technical challenges that are unique to a woman, except that you may need to put in more hours at work thus compromising availability at home

Maize and wheat flour millers regularly accuse AFA of putting unnecessary hurdles on their efforts to bring imports to offset chronic shortages in the local market. How are you addressing these concerns?

We have automated consignment clearance processes all of which are done online and also deployed crop inspectors at all border points for 24 hours to hasten verification of consignments at the borders. As AFA, we have four hotlines in place operating 24 hours (0742991670, 0768439940, 0769466418, 0790409435) in case any stakeholder requires urgent support. There is also strict adherence to Crops Act, 2013 and we hold regular meetings to address emerging concerns as well as implementing the wheat purchase programme that has a remission scheme where millers in the programme enjoy 10 percent duty down from 35 percent.

What do you do when not regulating?

I spend a lot of time with my children, like singing (SDA hymns) and travelling.

As AFA’s head, what are your plans to take the Authority to the next level?

As the DG, I want to negotiate for the Authority to be given a board of management and have the human resource instruments approved to ensure the Authority is adequately staffed to facilitate effective delivery of its mandate.

I will also ensure that all the necessary resources are available for AFA to perform its functions effectively. Funds mobilisation for effective performance of the Authority’s functions is also part of my plans. In addition, I will ensure there is prudent utilisation of allocated funds. Lastly, I would like to see the establishment of regional offices for effective delivery of services to the public and stakeholders while strengthening the regulatory role of the institution and stakeholder engagement and staff motivation.

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