What government missed in bid to save miraa sector

A man holds a bunch of miraa. Photo/FILE

“The German economy is far too important to be left to a strategic plan.” German Central Bank staff member during an international banker’s convention

Following the end of World War II in 1945, the UK faced a serious challenge. Their national focus, industries and population had been directed towards the war effort.

As a result, their ability to produce food was seriously compromised, forcing the country to ration food. Goods like sugar, flour or milk were restricted to a certain amount per person.

So serious were the shortages that those who lived through that period can remember times when fruits were rare. Oranges, lemons and pineapples would be savoured and eaten whole; peels and all. Wild fruit would be consumed even before it ripened and hunger pangs were constant companions to the majority of the population.

The government reacted by passing the Agricultural Act of 1947 which stated in part that “the twin pillars upon which the government’s agricultural policy rests are stability and efficiency.

The method of providing stability was through guaranteed prices and assured markets.”

Prices of main crops such as wheat, barley and sugar beet were fixed for 18 months while those of beef cattle, milk and eggs were fixed for the next four years.

In 1957, a new Agriculture Act mandated the government not to reduce prices of any product by more than four per cent in any one year, not to reduce the price of livestock/livestock products by nine per cent in total over any consecutive three years and not to reduce the value of guarantees by more than 2.5 per cent in any one year.

Consequently, farm incomes grew, farmers developed the confidence to make heavy capital investment and serious technological advances were made in agriculture.

Crop yields improved, cereal prices increased at a quicker rate than other commodities and labour use reduced as mechanisation increased.

Eventually, the food rationing was brought to an end in 1953 and even though Britain is not self-sufficient, it operates as a food trading nation relying on both imports and export markets to feed itself and drive economic growth.

In 2013, the UK government announced plans to ban the consumption of khat (miraa), following a trend in Europe, the US and Canada.

Setting a date of June 24 (last month), it was expected that producer countries would take measures to cushion those involved in this industry from the effects of the ban.

Kenyan players in this sector did not take the news lying down. Taking to foreign capitals, the media and finally Parliament, noise was made about the harsh effects of the ban on farmers and counties which depend on the stimulant for economic sustenance.

Sadly, the government through its agents participated in what can only be described as a fool’s errand – an attempt to persuade another government to take actions that are completely against its own self-interest for the sake of negligible benefits. It was doomed from the start; a poor example of government intervention.

It is the responsibility of farsighted governments to anticipate, mitigate and intervene to address threats to a country’s agricultural productivity. A republic’s ability to feed itself is too important to be left to strategic plans or political manifestos.

Governments ought to enact effective legislation, actively participate to spur production in critical sectors and populate government organisations that serve farmers with true public servants whose hearts resonate with those of the farmers.

Agricultural legislation should be well thought through, should take into account the farmers’ natural desire for stability and should reward every effort put into ensuring the country remains well fed.

Where the need arises to spur production in a critical sector, the government should be prepared to take an active role as a market intermediary to shield the farmers from unfavourable market forces and assure processors of a steady supply of raw materials.

Governments ought to choose only those with a true servant’s heart to lead organisations that deal directly with farmers because they are best able to understand their needs and are unlikely to craft strategies to illegally profit from the people they are supposed to serve.

Mr Mutua is a Humphrey Fellow and a leadership development consultant focused on family businesses. E-mail: [email protected]

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