Three people have moved to the constitution and human rights court to push for recognition of small-scale farmers in Kenya as a vulnerable group so that their problems can be addressed.
Former director of East African Fine Coffee Association Philip Gitao, rights activist Abdulrahman Mirimo Wandati and Dubat Ali Amey filed the petition on behalf of small scale farmers whom they say have been neglected by agriculture State players.
“Small scale farmers are entitled to the same protection as that of labourers under Article 41 on account of their similar vulnerabilities and particularly having weak bargaining power,” said the trio. “The farmers have a right not to be subjected to any policies, regulations, laws and commercial practices that would make their livelihoods like that of slavery and servitude.”
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The three say that for ages, despite forming a sizeable number of people, small scale farmers have been left out during training and extension services, during legislation that affects them, when forming unions, cooperatives and other organizations. They argue that the State has failed to recognize and protect the rights of the farmers as a collective right in law.
“The State has continuously promoted a liberal capitalist mode of development in the Agriculture sector and thereby failed to protect small scale farmers from the oppressive and predatory practices of agriculture sector leaders and officials and private commercial interests,” they said.
In their affidavits, Gitau said that at independence, farmers had various organizations to ensure quality inputs at affordable prices.
He said Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) which in 1973 had offices in 33 districts and imported farming inputs in bulk ensuring quality, competitive prices and timely access by small scale farmers.
“Due to politics KFA weakened. With a weak KFA the private sector took advantage and thrived in the importation and distribution of fertilizer. This has the effect of high prices, poor quality and skewed distribution of fertilizer leading to higher production costs for coffee farmers,” said Gitau.
He went on: “One of the most difficult issues in the coffee sector is financing. Initially, through the cooperative movement, farmers had access to finance at controlled interests. This system has collapsed.”
Wandati supported the categorizing of small scale farmers as a vulnerable group by giving an example of his father who was a contracted cane farmer at Mumias Sugar Company.
“My father Samuel Wandati signed up with Mumias to grow sugarcane on a three-acre farm in Shirotsa. Despite engaging in sugar cane farming for years he became poor and destitute and unable to bring up his family,” he said.
“By the time of his death in 2008 my father had been frustrated as a small scale farmer to the extent that he opted to return the three acres to food farming.”
They have sued the Attorney General, CS Agriculture, CS Trade, the commissioner of revenue allocation, speakers and counties.