Potato Regulation Rattles traders though it offers a lifeline

Potato regulation, requires farmers to register with county government and growers’ association every year. This law passed in 2019 also requires transporters, dealers and processors to register with the counties failure to which they face up to Sh5million fines or three years’ imprisonment or both. The law further demands that potatoes be packaged in approved clean materials that allow flow of air, and not exceeding 50 Kilos.

This move rattled a group of traders who moved to court seeking to quash the directive by the Agriculture Food Authority (AFA) that potatoes only be packaged in bags not exceeding 50kg, terming it unconstitutional since they were allegedly never consulted. They also wanted the court to issue an order stopping the police from arresting and prosecuting them on the basis of having potatoes packed in gunny bags exceeding the limit.

The traders had urged the court to bar the government from implementing Section 42 of the Agriculture Fisheries and Food Authority Act, 2014, which made it illegal to package potatoes in bags of over 50 kilograms. But justice Weldon Korir said in issuing the directive AFA was simply restating the law and therefore the directive was valid. He added that the case had been overtaken by events after coming into force of the Crops (Irish Potato) Regulations 2019, which replaced the disputed directive.

AFA argued that the disputed directive was issued to curb exploitation of farmers by traders who did not adhere to the measurement requirements leading to huge price differences of up to 1000 percent as a result of usage of extended bags of 130–260 kilograms.

Teresia Wanjiku a potato farmer from Oljororok in Nyandarua County opines that the move by the government to curb potato packaging to 50 kilograms is a blessing to farmers in the region. “We would toil our pieces of lands to achieve a good produce but we were paid peanuts by traders who purchase from us. We had to pack even 2 sacks of 50kg to be one sack and the price paid are not commensurate to the potatoes and the hard work put in the fields. The traders opted for exploitative packaging, weighing more than 120 kilos per bag that were bought at a general price without considering the weight,” she lamented.

AFA Director General Kello Harsama opined that traders dealing in Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots are notorious for using big packaging bags, to the disadvantage of farmers.
“The law is very clear and they must be packaged in 50kg bags. It has been the tradition of brokers in this country and cartels in the agriculture sector to rob the farmers of their earnings through wrong packaging or even cleverly designed packaging to benefit the cartels. Farmers have been exploited for a long time and this has to stop,” Harsama said.

He said the agriculture sector had been lost to cartels to an extent that farmers threatened to stop growing the crops. “This is because brokers are earning more than the farmers. We are now trying to reclaim the agriculture sector from cartels and brokers, and we have begun with reforms in the coffee and tea subsectors. Now we are moving to enhance reforms in the horticulture sector,” Harsama said.

The authority states that the directive was also in line with the International Labour Organizations’ Maximum Weight Convention No.127 which stipulated that the permissible weight which may be transported manually by one adult should not be more than 55 kilograms.

The Convention came into force in Kenya on March 10, 1970, also prohibits the manual transportation of a load which by reason of its weight is likely to jeopardize the health and safety of the transporter.

In regard to registration of farmers with the county Government and growers’ association every year, Peris Gitahi a farmer from south Kinangop says that though the law is good, the government should roll up massive sensitization to enable farmers understand it more instead of using enforcement officers in harassing them. “We are rattled by the implementation of the law, annual registration is unnecessary for peasant farmers. “If you don’t register to grow Irish Potatoes and you grow them, you are going to jail for one year. This is harsh to us farmers,” she noted.
Agriculture and Food Authority’s, Beatrice Nyamwamu, while launching the training of the National Government Administration Officers to help in the enforcement, noted that the continuous enforcement was geared towards fair play to farmers, transporters and traders.

“The production, packaging and transportation to market starts at the farm level and therefore if good work is done at the farm level, we will have little enforcement at the markets. We want to see a maximum of 50kg being sold at all markets as Kenya is a signatory to the Labour Relations Organization that requires that anything handled manually does not exceed 50kgs for the health of our people,” Nyamwamu remarked.

For those exporting potatoes, dealers will have to ensure that the packaged potatoes are well labelled stating the county of origin, variety, name of collection centre and date of harvest.
Speaking during a status report on the horticultural sector, the Food and Agriculture Authority Director General Harsame Kello issued revised regulations to ensure food safety within the domestic market.

Among them, the authority in collaboration with county governments will not allow fresh produce aggregation on roadsides instead; counties should set up raised platforms for the purpose.
In addition, fresh produce shall not be ferried alongside any non-food stuff and shall be transported in a covered and well-ventilated vehicle.

“We have gazzetted 145 enforcement officers to ensure these regulations are adhered to and there are criminal charge sheets for those who will not”, said Harsame Kello.
This comes barely a fortnight after the sector launched the KS1758 quality mark to scale up compliance with quality and safety regulations to set standards.
Stakeholders plan to have all horticultural producer adhere to the mark for all the produce in supermarkets and other structured markets by the end of this year.

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