Why reforms in coffee are far from taking firm root

Coffee farmers in Nyeri

Women pick coffee at a farm in Nyeri County.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Unrelenting rows pitting the national government and devolved units continue hampering a coffee reforms programme, which has made dismal progress since its inception in 2016.

While stakeholders have been expecting to see light at the end of the tunnel in the restructuring process as Agriculture CS Peter Munya promised, reforms are headed for another hurdle following two coffee Bills before Parliament.

The Coffee Bill 2021 and the Coffee Bill 2020 dubbed Senate Bills No 22 of 2020 are almost similar and have been confusing stakeholders.

The latter, which many see as intended to pre-empt the former, is sponsored by the chairman of the Senate standing committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Njeru Ndwiga while the former was formulated by Mr Munya through his Ministry.

The Embu Senator and members of his committee came up with the draft following a meeting they held with the Council of Governors in October last year. Mr Munya had just completed drafting his Bill, which the council said was developed without wider consultation.

Regulatory powers

Basically, the two bills are addressing the same concerns that are aimed at revamping the coffee sub-sector. But the bone of contention is who should have the regulatory powers to control the multi-billion shilling industry.

The Council of Governors has been insisting, county governments are instrumental in steering the coffee reforms President Kenyatta initiated in 2016 with agriculture being a devolved function.

In the Coffee Bill 2021 the Coffee Board of Kenya, which Mr Munya wants reconstituted and strengthened will be the sole industry’s regulator. County governments will only be required to work jointly with the board in regulating players in the value chain.

The Bill, which stakeholders approved during public participation the ministry organised early this year, is already before the National Assembly for debate.

Mr Ndwiga’s Bill underwent a first reading in the Senate last month. His committee is now reviewing views presented by wananchi. The public had been given up to May 28 to submit their proposals before the Bill goes for second reading.

At a meeting held in Mombasa, the CoG according to a communique signed by Mr Ndwiga and the then CoG chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Muthomi Njuki, and the Ministry of Agriculture did not involve county governments in its formulation.

The purpose of their joint meeting was to discuss challenges affecting the agriculture sector with the CoG complaining that the ministry has continued to develop legislative and regulatory framework in the sector without involving governors.

“That the Council of Governors and the Senate shall undertake a legal review of all laws in the agriculture sector to ensure conformity with the Constitution. Henceforth, the Senate shall not consider any Bills concerning county governments developed without proper and meaningful consultation and involvement of county governments,” says their statement.

It also points out similar bills and regulations recommending radical changes in tea and sugar sectors which were drafted without public input.

Elected leaders

In their press statement issued after the meeting, elected leaders were of the view that the regulations a presidential task force had formulated before being enacted by Parliament be implemented to the letter.

However, the rules are yet to be effected. And they will apparently cease to exist once the Coffee Bill 2021 becomes law, which Mr Munya has attested to.

In the Coffee Reforms, the Crops (Coffee) (General) Regulations, 2019, which the Presidential Taskforce crafted, county governments had managed to push former Agriculture CS, Mwangi Kiunjuri to have devolved units regulate the sub-sector.

Some counties have already developed a template for issuance and renewal of licenses for commercial millers and growers’ marketing permits. Others include licences for warehousemen and for coffee roasters.

The function for issuing trading licenses in Munya’s Bill has been reverted back to the Coffee Board of Kenya. Farmers are yet to differentiate between the two bills.


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