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Cartels rob farmers of profitable opportunities

Smallholder farmers are losing lucrative opportunities in the local and global markets owing to practice of unethical trade behaviour by cartels, the government now admits.

Agriculture principal secretary Richard Lesiyampe says errant State officers receive kickbacks from unscrupulous traders to deny small-scale farmers an opportunity to enjoy services from the government.

“The cartels have taken over the entire agriculture sector where they hoard commodities to cause scarcity and trigger off higher prices while at the same time evading taxes,” he said.

He blamed the infiltration of dishonest merchants to government offices disregarding set regulations to benefit from bribes. This, he added, has contributed to the current agonies small-scale farmers are grappling with in every sub-sector.

“The majority of farmers in coffee, sugarcane, pyrethrum, tea, potato and maize sub-sectors are struggling with numerous challenges as the middlemen with the assistance of rowdy government offices control the value chains,” said Lesiyampe.

He added, “farmers have lost morale to boost production as the middlemen have curtailed their efforts to reach the market. For example, in coffee, sugarcane, pyrethrum and potato sub-sectors farmers are counting losses as middlemen control the entire value chain right from the farm level.

Farmers, instead are abandoning the crops and venturing into other economic activities which are less dominated by the cartels,” he added.

For example, in coffee, farmers have lost millions of shillings as their crop is stolen from factories and equally they are denied opportunities to directly participate in the market.

“Government programmes targeting the small-scale farmers, for example, subsidised fertiliser and seeds are instead benefiting cartels,” he added.

In some sub-sectors like coffee, cartels have been frustrating implementation of reforms which the government has been fast-tracking in order to create beneficial opportunities for thousands of small-scale farmers.

In coffee for example, Lesiyampe said, production has plummeted to below 50,000 tonnes from a high of 129,000 in 1987/88 coffee year as growers lose morale to continue farming owing to manipulation by rogue traders.

 He made the remarks while opening the third annual national potato conference and trade fair 2018 at the Kenya Agricultural and Research Organisation headquarters on behalf of Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri.

Before July this year Lesiyampe stated  the government would gazette new rules on packaging of potatoes.

“I expect that the process will be inclusive and that in the next few months, we should be gazetting these regulations to bring order to the sector,” said Kiunjuri. New coffee sub-sector rules will also be gazetted soon.

The application of unprincipled trade tactics, for example, fixing prices as well as segmenting the markets has contributed to low agriculture productivity and thus lead to low exports. This has enabled cartels to import goods into the country which are sold at high prices to consumers.

Even as the economy continues expanding owing to strategies the government is fast-tracking, Lesiyampe observed that the participation of small-scale farmers is limited owing to manipulation by unscrupulous traders and lobby groups.  The latter behaviour affect competition in the market.

Under the big four agenda food security component, Lesiyampe confirmed that the Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy will help tame numerous gaps affecting the sector in the medium term.

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