Rethinking Regulations for Emerging Agricultural Enterprises in Africa
Last year, the Kenya Dairy Board proposed having dairy farmers sell products to contracted processors only. The public outcry that followed against the rule saw the Board scrap the regulation. Later in 2020, the Kenyan Energy Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) came up with a new set of regulations that prescribed strict licensing rules for solar investment in the country. Even the Senate stood against the regulations this time, arguing that the regulations would stifle instead of grow the solar sector.
Last month, the government introduced the Livestock Bill of 2021, which demanded the registration of all beekeepers in the country. As expected, farmers and other agricultural stakeholders are against the new law, arguing that it will slow the growth of the newly emerging apiculture industry. These examples point to a trend where the government proposes regulations for growing sectors, only for the new rules to be rejected by the general public.
Regulations for growing sectors, like agriculture, are not a bad idea. Experiences from all over the world show that, when done right, regulations can deliver several benefits to emerging and growing sectors. Some of these benefits include preventing counterfeit goods and products from thriving, ensuring goods and services are of the highest standards, and creating an enabling environment to facilitate trade in the targeted sectors. Given such benefits, one wonders why the public overwhelmingly rejects some of these regulations. The answer to this question lies is in our approach to regulating growing agricultural sectors in Africa. Currently, most regulations appear more interested in controlling and not growing the sectors. A look at the common complaint against the three earlier mentioned regulations brings this point to light. In each of the three cases, the public’s main concern is that the new regulations would stifle instead of grow the targeted sectors. So, how can policymakers dispel these fears and ensure that regulations serve to boost the targeted sectors?
First, policymakers should prioritize creating an enabling environment, as opposed to merely regulating emerging sectors. If anything, the whole point of a regulation is to create an enabling environment for the growth of the targeted industries. When new laws emerge as part of initiatives to create an enabling environment, the regulations tend to be more practical and are more likely to enjoy public acceptance. In contrast, when the focus is on regulating the sectors only, resistance is almost inevitable. The point here is not to do away with regulations; rather, it is to ensure that the drafters of new regulations do not lose sight of the overarching intention of the proposals, which is to create an enabling environment for the target sector’s growth.
As such, the ultimate test for any new regulation should be whether it serves to grow or to stifle the targeted industry. The answer should always be the former. It appears simple, right? There is a catch. You see, focusing on creating an enabling environment requires work compared to just drafting a regulation. It will demand that government officials be directly involved when some of these farming enterprises emerge. Officials will have to interact with farmers, encourage them to aggregate into groups, and form cooperatives. The good thing about putting in the work required is that regulations become automatic. With farmers organized into groups, they will suggest appropriate regulations for the growth of their industry themselves. This bottom-up approach is likely to yield better results than having government officials force regulations down industry players, but it requires work.
Secondly, policymakers should always strive to ensure public participation when drafting regulations. Here, we have to distinguish between mere involvement and meaningful participation. It is not enough to call people to a meeting hall, inform them about a proposed law, have them sign participation forms, and call that participation. Participation should be meaningful. The public should have enough time to review the regulations, comment, and improve them.
Like the first proposal, this one, too, requires work. The drafters of the regulations will have to plan for public involvement while involving all stakeholders. Next, they will have to share the draft legislation and ensure that all stakeholders have had sufficient interactions with the documents to make a meaningful contribution. They will then have to revise the regulations in line with the shared feedback. By following all these steps and others, policymakers will ensure not just meaningful public participation; moreover, they will be setting the foundations for a good enabling environment, which brings us back to the earlier point. You see, creating an enabling environment and public participation are somehow related. To illustrate, one of the markers of a good enabling environment is having farmers organized into groups or cooperatives.
Without having farmers organized in this manner, it becomes difficult even to identify the players in the industry, for meaningful public participation. That is probably why policymakers for these emerging industries have a hard time achieving the required levels of public participation. For regulations to work in growing agricultural sectors, government officials should be ready and willing to put in the work to create an enabling environment and to foster public participation.