Yes, that bright green fruit with a large rubbery seed and dark leathery skin that is a source of vitamins C, E, K, and B6, as well as riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and potassium is threatening to kill careers of politicians in the mountain region. It has also exposed politicians and how they pass Bills in Parliament without reading them but rather acting like a rubber stamp for the Executive.

How The Humble Avocado Is Threatening Political Careers In Mt Kenya

It may be a healthy fruit but it is proving to be a hard one to swallow for politicians who passed the controversial Finance Act.

This fruit, which generated Ksh.19 billion in 2023, is generating a lot of heat from farmers in the Mt Kenya region and politicians from the area are starting to sweat as they rethink their support of the Finance Act 2023.

The avocado is the unanimous fruit of choice for Kenyans; it is taken in many ways but the apex is when it is served salted in fresh slices alongside fresh ripe tomatoes and dhania (coriander) as a side dish… next to a hot bowl of the beloved githeri (fried mixed maize and beans) or pilau (a Swahili themed rice dish).

Locally, avocado farming in Central Kenya has sparked a powerful and growing conversation about the taxation of farm produce right from the farm.

This follows an uproar witnessed around Central Kenya by farmers who have categorically vowed they will not pay taxes on their unprocessed produce, as prescribed by the Finance Act of 2023.

The farmers even threatened to vote out politicians who voted for the Bill saying they hoodwinked them into supporting a law that has come back to hurt them.

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Trouble started when the Kenya Kwanza administration published a Medium-Term Revenue Strategy (MTRS) proposing to tax five per cent of all produce that farmers take to the market.

There is a train of thought that there were a lot of half-truths served to Kenyans in enacting the Finance Act 2023, but no one could have provided stronger evidence than to witness the drama served on Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officers in Murang’a County a few weeks ago.

The KRA officers were in Murang’a to educate farmers on the use of the electronic Tax Invoice Management System (eTIMS) but things took a scary turn when the crowd of farmers and their legislative leaders heckled them and kicked them out of the meeting.

The farmers, who were gathered at Matenjagwo Stadium to listen to the KRA officers, went into an uproar when they were informed that the government was seeking to tax their beloved avocado produce right at the farm level hence the need to know how to use KRA’s eTIMS. In short, taxes had come to their doorstep without any preamble.

What took many by surprise was seeing some of the region’s legislators who passed the Finance Bill 2023, being part of the mob that shouted down the KRA officers before they hastily took off.

Many Kenyans have however been left to wonder what goes on within the August house if the concerned members, who gleefully pass bill after bill sponsored by the government, cannot spare time to comprehend how these laws will affect their people and most importantly if the people they represent agree with the proposed law.

Objections by two Members of Parliament (MPs), Kandara MP Chege Njuguna and Gatanga MP Edward Muriiu, present during the KRA and farmers meeting in Muranga left Kenyans bemused.

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Mr Njuguna told the gathering: “We are telling the government; we are not going to pay those avocado taxes. What the government needs to do is subsidize the avocado, which means helping the farmers, not killing them. We refuse our farmers to be killed. Hiyo maneno tumekataa kabisa.”

With these words, an avalanche of criticism and condemnation of government moves to collect taxes from farmers gathered ground and soon it became an issue and stand from the mountain.

One politician watching all the chaos with glee is Githunguri MP Gathoni wa Wamuchomba, the only UDA MP who did not vote for the Finance Act 2024.

Two weeks ago, she faulted the government for introducing the farm produce tax to the detriment of farmers.

The noise from the mountain threatened to turn into a full-blown volcano and the country’s second-in-command Rigathi Gachagua waded into the discussion promising amendments to recently implemented financial laws to prevent double taxation on avocados.

“I have called a meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) with the Cabinet Secretaries for National Treasury and Agriculture, representatives of the fruit farmers, exporters and aggregators and the Kenya Revenue Authority so we can agree on the way forward in the implementation of the clause in the Act. We are a listening government and we value consultations,” he said when he hosted avocado industry stakeholders for a consultative meeting at his Karen residence.

The stakeholders committee will sit to seek a ‘temporary solution’ to remove the Electronic Tax Invoice Management System (e-TIMS) requirement on avocado farmers.

“It is true that we have challenges in the Finance Act and tomorrow’s (Wednesday) meeting will establish a first aid strategy even as our MPs embark on the long process of amending the Finance Act which has a due process to be followed,” Gachagua said.

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Interestingly, President Ruto has not publicly spoken about the raging debate; hence letting the conversation take an independent course that might most probably show the true stand of the people.

Will this calm the rumbling mountain? We wait.

By Vincent Obadha

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