For whom are this government’s absurd regulations?

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By Shadrack Muyesu

Regulation 30 of the Food (Food crops) Regulations 2018 prohibits a grower from using human faecal matter and raw animal manure to produce food crops. It is a curious provision.

The Ministry of Agriculture says that the Regulations are aimed at addressing various emergent challenges in the food crops industry, thereby boosting food security and enabling President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda. An alternative view is that far from achieving this aim, the Regulations not only cripple the small farmer but also threaten food security in the long term. Besides, they come at a great cost to the environment. In fact, the real winners here are capital interests.  

Nothing wrong with organic manure

Raw animal manure falls in the category of organic manure. Gross it may be but numerous studies show that this type of manure has a greater positive effect on the soil compared to fertilisers. In relation to crops, while positive results may be initially slow to arrive, they are greater and more sustained when they do arrive. What is more, organic manure poses no danger to the environment as do fertilisers. On the contrary, it actually improves the soil structure. Let’s consider some of these studies.

Scientists acknowledge that intensive cultivation with extreme use of chemical fertilisers increases crop productivity. They also note that chemical fertilisers disturb the agro-ecosystem and pollute soil and water quality to a great extent. To harness the benefits of chemical fertilisers while reducing the harm, they recommend a combined application of organic and inorganic fertilisers. Per their findings, this is the surest way of guaranteeing nutrient recovery, plant growth and ultimate yield without destroying the soil. 

In a study dubbed (the) Effects of Organic and Inorganic Manures on Maize and their residual Impacts on Soil Physico-Chemical Properties, Faisal Mahmood et al compared the effects organic and inorganic manures or a combination of both would have on crop yield. Their findings showed that growth and yield of maize increased the most when fertiliser was used alongside organic manures and that, while fertilisers also increased crop yield, sustained use led to an increase in soil acidity. Organic manure not only reduced acidity but it also led to a lower soil bulk density. The more acidic the soil, the more difficult it will be for the plant to absorb certain nutrients. Poor iron intake, for instance, causes the leaves to be yellow. 

On their part, Xiangyang Liu Guangxi Ren and Yan Shi of the Qingdao Agricultural Universityfound thatorganic manure cultivation promotes all-ground growth, improves root vigour as well as the leaf net photosynthetic capability and overall yield. Accordingly, reasonably using organic manure improves quality and yield and soil structure, and protects the environment.

Their study was titled The effect of organic manure and chemical fertilizer on growth and development of Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. It compared the effects of using organic manure and chemical fertiliser in Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni cultivation. Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni is a sugar plant. Through this experiment, they make fundamental studies on the effect of organic manure to vegetative growth, economic yield, photosynthetic rate and the content of rebaudioside A (RA) and stevioside (STV) in leaves. Their conclusion was that, while more benefits manifested in the crop subjected to fertiliser at the early stages, the crop exposed to organic manure produced more nutritious in the long term. In other words, while there was faster development where fertiliser was used, the development slowed and crop subjected to manure took over in terms of yield. Initial slow growth is woing to slow decomposition processes of organic manure. 

The final study by Si Ho Han et al is titled The Effects of Organic Manure and Chemical Fertilizer on the Growth and Nutrient Concentrations of yellow poplar in a Nursery System. In their final paper, the authors begin with a general comparison of chemical and organic manure. They say that, although chemical manures are relatively inexpensive, have a high nutrient content and are easily absorbed by plants, the use of excessive fertiliser can result in a number of problems such as nutrient loss, surface water and ground water contamination, soil acidification or basification, reductions in useful microbial communities and increased sensitivity to harmful insects. 

Further, while organic manure has a number of shortcomings including low nutrient contents, slow decomposition and different nutrient compositions depending on its organic material, compared to chemical fertilizers, it has benefits due to the balanced supply of nutrients. These include, micronutrients, increased soil nutrient availability due to increased soil microbial activity, the decomposition of harmful elements, soil structure improvements and root development and increased soil water availability. 

The sum of their findings was that organic manure originating from livestock by products and sawdust promoted the growth of yellow poplar and improved soil conditions. They recommended that organic manure be used in nursery seedling production systems. 

Cartels the real winners

From this comparison, a couple of truths come to the fore. The first is the critical role played by agricultural extension officers whose duty it ought to be to guide the use of manure. The second and most important is the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with using manure as government would have Kenyans believe. This begs the question, in whose interests is Government working when banning the use of organic manure?

Illicit fertiliser trade is a billion-shilling industry in this country. Until now, the modus operandi for fertiliser cartels has been to generate news of fake fertilisers and instigate arrests and confiscation of cargo allowing them operate solo during the planting season. As we speak, there is an ongoing case where the legitimacy of 3,500 tons of OCP fertiliser worth some Ksh300 million is in issue.  Investigators claim that it had traces of mercury. Curiously, the Director of Public Prosecutions told the Court that samples of this fertilizer taken by investigators showing that it had mercury had been destroyed. Even more surprising is how the DPP, the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Kenya Revenue Authority joined forces in vehemently opposing any plans to retest the fertiliser. The DPP has ignored four court orders to this effect. 

Appearing in the matter, Paul Muite SC gave away a copy of the cartels playbook when making application for retesting. According to the lawyer, the charges were nothing beyond a trade war between cartels who did not want cheap fertiliser to reach farmers and wanted to edge out OCP Kenya Ltd which imports cheap fertiliser from the market. 

“The real fear is that OCP Kenya’s fertiliser is cheap and will retail at Ksh2, 500 (per bag) with high productivity rate of up to 20 per cent. If it was to be used, there would be no need for subsidised fertiliser which retails at Ksh3, 500 per bag,” submitted Muite.

The biggest beneficiary of this fraud is the Export Trading Group.

The Food (Food crops) Regulations 2018 and the currently suspended Diary Industry Licensing Regulations 2018 are clear testimony of the power markets have in a capitalist society. Ideally, parliament is supposed to consult widely and act in the best interest of the citizens. But lobbyists have taken over. With powerful individuals in government having business interests in food production, disingenuous laws like the aforementioned regulations shouldn’t come as a surprise. Favourable policies are for those who can pay. 

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