In a negotiation if you show the other party you really want something and you are desperate for it, they can take advantage of you. This is probably what happened in the just concluded Uhuru- Museveni talks where Kenyatta gave in too much to ensure his Ugandan counterpart committed to building the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Kampala to Malaba culminating in a bad week for Kenyan farmers. Uganda is a landlocked country and relies on Mombasa port for her cargo needs. It has been proven that for SGR to be fully effective, it has to serve the region especially the land locked countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda was developing cold feet over the deal and Tanzania has won over Rwanda which prefers the Tanzanian route. Uhuru had therefore to convince Museveni to commit to developing the Kampala –Malaba SGR and the Chinese were not ready to release the Kes 380 Billion to fund the Naivasha- Kisumu phase of the project without this assurance.
At the end of the day, Kenyans and especially farmers lost too much in the deal. According to official social media posts by President Museveni; Ugandans will now increase their annual sugar exports to Kenya from 36,000 metric tonnes to 90,000. As if cheap egg imports from Uganda are not enough to kill the poultry sector in Kenya, Ugandans will resume poultry exports to Kenya in a week. They will also have less paper work for their dairy products exports in return for lifting beef imports to Kenyans.
Within the week, Kenyan farmers were shocked to learn of the proposed The Crops (Food Crops) regulations of 2018 that criminalizes the use of raw manure in planting crops. The law also recommends a jail term of up to three years for anyone obstructing a crop inspector from accessing their farm. As much as safety standards are important, farmers should be sensitized through forums and trainings by extension officers but not creating corruption conduits in the name of crop inspectors.
A few days ago, the Kenya Dairy Board suspended proposed milk regulations that would have seen farmers fined up to Kes 500,000 for selling milk to their neighbours. The regulations proposed farmers to pasteurize their milk or sell to someone with a cooling facility if they have no capacity. The regulations were suspended after an uproar by Kenyans on social media who read mischief in a sector controlled by Brookside Dairy which is associated with the Kenyatta family and has previously bought some of its competitors.
Regulations are necessary to safeguard food safety and prevent exploitation of farmers by brokers and other unscrupulous traders. They could also make our produce especially horticultural to be more favorable in the export market and in particular accessing the European Union bloc. However, the government needs to address the most pressing needs farmers are facing that have made the venture unprofitable such as high taxation of inputs compared to other East African countries and inadequate support from extension officers. The sector has a lot of potential in creating jobs especially for the youth along the agrifood if more effort is channeled there. It could revolutionize agroprocessing industries (agriculture manufacturing ) and contribute to nutritional needs leading to a healthy population. In addition, the government ought to involve the farmers in drafting the regulations.
In conclusion, whereas I advocate for controlled free trade (positive protectionism) to protect key industries and jobs, President Museveni’s visit to Kenya and the trade deals signed by his counterpart culminates into a bad week for Kenyan farmers.