OBADHA: ‘Mama Mboga’ – Caught in a dilemma between regulation and stark reality
Published on: June 25, 2015 03:43 (EAT)
In the late 80’s right into the early 90’s economic misfortune and great apprehension struck Kenya citizens. Depraved politics was to blame; ‘siasa mbaya maisha mbaya’ (translated from Kiswahili it means ‘poor politics breeds poor life standards) goes an adage from a retired prominent politician. What had began, as a rule full of promise and hope for prosperity had fast degenerated into a fearful and economically ravaged country. For a country that had consistently kept respectable economic growth, Kenya’s GDP went down very fast from a high of 6.9 percent in 1986 to a low of -0.8 in 1992. This negative feat never recurred to date, not even after the Post Election Violence (PEV) of 2008. Slums festered, unemployment hit record highs, fear of falling foul of the authorities pervaded the society and the Bretton Woods Institutions took off. The shilling slid from 16.2 shillings to the dollar in 1986 to 58.0 in 1993, a span of 6 years. Inflation ran amok from a low of 4.6 percent in 1986 touching a high of 37.7 percent in 1993. Thus was the ‘kadogo’ economy born, it was a product of the adverse stranglehold on the Kenya economy. ‘Mama mboga’ soon emerged, a creation of the ‘kadogo’ economy that thrived in many middle to low-income residential areas. The high inflation, a battered shilling and economic uncertainties created a situation in which a good percentage of citizens were subsisting literally from hand to mouth. One purchased what they required in the exact quantity needed. Sugar was no longer purchased in either 1 or 2 kilograms, as had been the norm; a tiny bowl, a few scoops would be sold according to one’s pocket. Food produce such as greens and fruits moved away from established marketplaces to temporary roadside shelters as close as possible to residential areas. Over time food produce vendors, to add value to their sales, even offered extra services such as washing, cutting and packing the vegetables on sale by given amounts. Spoons were used to measure cooking fat! ‘Mama mboga’ has come a long way and is alive and well. ‘She’ has been brought about by explicit needs and made relevant, even as life improved in subsequent years, by asymmetries in the produce market. The new law and its consequences The newly published regulations proposed by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority (AFFA) to guide the implementation of Crops Act 2013 states, ‘all food crop produce shall be offered for sale only at designated markets.’ With this simple sentence the death knell for ‘mama mboga’ has sounded. If approved by sector players and gazetted by the CS Agriculture, the new regulations will transform the ‘kadogo’ economy rampant all through Kenya and more so within informal residential areas. For ‘mama mboga’ to understand just how profound this law is, any person found selling food items outside the designated markets would face a Sh500, 000 fine or imprisonment for a period of one year. This punishment is a real deterrent but how does this weigh against the nature of offence in light of Kenya’s situation? I refuse to digress in this direction! The regulation states that vendors within designated markets will be expected to provide proof to inspectors that food crops on sale were harvested at maturity or as per AFFA requirements. The vendor will also prove to inspectors beyond reasonable doubt that food items on display were sorted, graded, processed, packed, labeled, transported, and stored to quality standards required by AFFA. Licensing and calibration The new regulation compels traders to acquire licenses from AFFA to grow, store, transport, process and trade in agricultural produce. All food produce and products dealers shall display and use a weighing scale that has been properly calibrated, serviced, inspected. Importers and exporters of agricultural produce must also be registered by the sector regulator and operate strictly as specified in their licensing conditions. Reality Check All this is a substantial attempt to safeguard the lives and health of Kenyans. It is what is already in practice within the western hemisphere where regulators control the quality and fitness-for-consumption of all agricultural produce. The whole concept facilitates the attainment of an audit trail of any agricultural produce on sale at any point thus assuring standards and preventing opportunistic or arbitrary harm to consumers. It is also a quality management tool that is sure to endear Kenya’s produce to a wider market, well beyond its borders. It will result in a healthy society free from encumbrances such as heavy metal poisoning, as could well be the case now. Who in their right mind would not want this? However here comes the reality check. From a value chain perspective, the producers as presently constituted cannot assure they will grow crops, store, and pack and transport the produce as per the best industry standards. Locally, apart from those exporting under Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) to the European Union (EU), these are way out of reach. If attained, they will push the cost of food produce through the roof! Some suggestions around this discussion have questioned why Kenyans are unperturbed about non-traceable food? They should ask how many, in a country which is ranked among the six poorest in Africa, will afford the resultant traceable, high quality food produce. The approach to arrive at this goal is to pick on select pilot food, which is not as yet mass consumed, and over time improve on the inefficiencies of its value chain. The verdict remains out there, is ‘mama mboga’s’ time up now or we are bothered about a future event? Time and the conduct of this regulation will tell.