Government Moves in On Potato Cartels
In March of this year (2021) the government launched regulations on potatoes packaging, setting that all potatoes packaging must not exceed 50 kilogrammes bags. These regulations are meant to ensure that merchants do not exploit farmers when buying potatoes.
During the launch, the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Peter Munya warned of tough penalties for defaulters and asked Counties to identify enforcement officers within markets to implement section 42 of the Agriculture Fisheries and Food Authority Act.
In a bid to implement the regulations, the Ministry of Agriculture has now launched a nationwide crackdown targeting traders violating the rule against packaging of Irish potatoes in 50 kilogrammes, thereby boosting efforts by County governments to protect farmers against unethical business practices by cartels and middlemen.
The food value chain actors, under the leadership of the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) kicked off the exercise in Meru County vowing to ensure corrupt traders and other crooked value chain players are subjected to the full force of the law.
Traders found contravening the Crops (Irish Potatoes) Regulations 2019 will be arrested and arraigned in court for defying Cap 16 of the Crops Act 2013, which banned packaging of the produce in extended bags.
AFA Acting Director General Kello Harsama, while speaking at the Gakoromone market in Meru town said that the clampdown is part of the Government’s long term strategy to tame the increasing cartels in the agriculture sector.
“Agriculture sector has been under the control of the cartels and unscrupulous traders thus denying farmers their hard earned sweat,” Harsama said, as he noted that the government’s mission is to reclaim the sector from the hands of the immoral players.
“For long we have witnessed farmers harvesting their potatoes and required to package them in 50kg bag but the cartels and brokers force them to package in extended bags, denying them an opportunity to earn good prices. This is outright theft,” he warned.
He noted that key in the implementation process is to ensure packaging is done in the required standard 50Kg. he added that the enforcement will be executed throughout the entire value chain from the farm to the markets.
The DG also recounted that they had sensitized stakeholders on then regulations and that they expect value chain players to comply with the guidelines by reversing the current scenario where potatoes are weighed in 110 kilogramme bags, subjecting farmers to huge losses.
Meru County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo stated that the County had constituted a committee involving various Government officers who will assist in ensuring the regulations are enforced accordingly.
However, George Muthee a potato trader at Gakoromone air Market in Meru expressed concern over the rules saying the law may affect farmers more than the trader and the consumer.
“The farmer and the consumer will be the big losers in this game because the trader will set buying price for that 50 kilograms packaging and the farmer will have no option because these are perishable product but to sell at the buyers price and the consumer will also suffer since he or she will also buy at higher price so we see this will not save farmer but exploit further,” added Muthee.
Julius Kirimi the chairman of Fresh Produce association in Gakoromone market also called for more public participation during the formation of the regulations to avoid business disruption.
“We are not opposed to the regulations, but we request to be given more time to understand the regulations and the Crops Act, 2013 accordingly,” he said.
Traders were required to adhere to the regulations on packaging from April 2 this year when the law was to take effect however, most of them are yet to comply, prompting the authority to start the crackdown.