You are a let-down, coffee farmers tell reforms team

Henry Kinyua at his farm. There were times the coffee berries from his farm were gold, then corruption and mismanagement brought in darkness. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]
At his farm in Mariene village, Central Imenti, Henry Kinyua, is a worried man.

For decades, his family has relied on proceeds from the sale of coffee berries to make ends meet. But now, his future, unlike the past, is no longer guaranteed, and everytime he looks at the glossy berries hanging from coffee bushes, all he sees is bleakness.

Kinyua (pictured) is one of the largest farmers affiliated to Katheri Coffee Farmers Co-operative Society. He harvests and supplies an average 10,000 kilos to his local society. It was not always doom and gloom though.

Corruption

There were times the coffee berries from his farm were gold. Then the darkness set in. Prices plummeted. Corruption and mismanagement in a sector that was once Kenya’s highest foreign exchange earner brought the industry to its knees. As other farmers uprooted their bushes when the prices hit rock bottom, Kinyua kept the faith. And when two years ago, a much awaited government report on coffee sector reforms got published, he was hopeful that the bad years were finally over.

But nothing, he says, has changed. In his 40s and with more than 10 years farming experience, Kinyua said prices for the last season paid in April were some of the poorest in recent years. He called for a pro-farmer marketing system that gives reasonable earnings to farmers and programmes provide for real “advances” affordable before the harvesting commences.

“Coffee harvesting is an expensive affair that requires ready cash as labour is paid on a daily basis at Sh80 per debe or Sh300 per day excluding transport and lunches,” said Kinyua who has over 3,000 tree bushes on an inherited five-acre farm.

“I have used over Sh250,000 for labour this season and everyday, I’m thinking whether to abandon this venture,” said Kinyua.

Katheri Farmers paid Sh42 per kilo of cherry -- one of its lowest payments in recent years.

Kinyua’s predicament mirrors the growing anxiety in the coffee sector over the ambitious reforms programme proposed by a presidential task force two years ago.

Even leaders in the chaotic coffee value chain and politicians are worried that the proposed reform was mirage.

Low rates

Among those calling for the disbanding of the implementation committee led by Joseph Kieyah include Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria and Kirinyaga’s Charles Kibiru (senator) and Wangui Ngirichi (woman MP) who claim cartels in the lucrative sector continue to exploit the gullible farmers.

“The Kieyah team has completely let down the coffee farmers by failing to address the key issues which have been documented as ailing the sector,“ said Kuria.

Kibiru questioned why farmers had been paid the lowest rate even as the world market of the commodity was at the best.

Separately, South Imenti MP Kathuri Murungi said he had his own doubts about the reforms in the sector.

“I have a pending parliamentary question directed to the Minister for Agriculture to explain the progress on the implementation of the task forces’ reports on coffee and tea sub sectors completed over three years ago,” said Kathuri.

Githae Hunyu, the chairman of Mutheka Farmers’ Co-operative Society which controls six pulping factories in Tetu, Nyeri County, said there were no signs the implementation committee had made any progress in the task.

“If they propose new rules or regulations, they will need to subject them to public participation and parliamentary oversight before they can be published in the Kenya Gazette,” said Hunyu.

“I am not aware any of that has happening anywhere.”

Some stakeholders said there was need for those spearheading the reform process to focus on increasing coffee production and righting the chaotic marketing system. Michael Kamande of Karurumo Factory in Maragua, Murang’a County, accused the committee of being held hostage by well entrenched cartels in the sector.

“It is in knowledge of many farmers that millers registered marketing companies, to camouflage and continue exploiting farmers,” said Kamande. He claimed Kenya Coffee Traders Association has frustrated implementation of reforms in the sector, as the government was held hostage.

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