Coffee laws leave farmers a bitter lot

A farmer picks coffee berriers on his farm in Kirinyaga County. The new regulations advocate for prompt payment of farmers. [Munene Kamau, Standard]
Stakeholders have dismissed the new coffee sector regulations as counterproductive.

Some farmers from Central Kenya yesterday faulted the Crops (Coffee) (General) Regulations of 2019, saying they would further entrench the cartels that have overseen the decline of the industry that was once a leading foreign exchange earner for the country. The new regulations introduced different measures to revive the sector, including increased oversight of industry players.

But according to the Kirinyaga County Cooperative Union, the new measures would place coffee farmers at a disadvantage while pushing up the cost of production. The union accused the Agriculture ministry of violating the Constitution by failing to consult stakeholders, claiming only county governments were involved in formulating the regulations.

The ministry, the union said in a statement, also disregarded the recommendations of the Coffee Task Force set up by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2016 to look into what ails the sector with a view of resuscitating it. “We, as growers, find these rules do not address the core of our problems which are production efficiency, production costs, crop financing, corporate governance failures, regulatory ineptness and coffee policy and strategy as there are no coffee sector national guidelines and directives,” said the union.

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It called for the suspension of the rules, adding that the laws as currently formulated are adequate to revive the sector.

“The regulations as gazetted will not advance our interests. We are of the view that the issues that need to be tackled in the coffee industry can be addressed through the existing legislation and regulations… enforcement of the existing regulations will go a long way to enhance competitiveness and reduce ineffectiveness.”

The farmers’ lobby also said the requirement for Saccos to get approvals from members every time they take a bank loan would be cumbersome and that it would kill the common practice of using the coffee crop as collateral. The regulations published on July 1 require all industry players to digitise their operations in a year’s time, which the union said would push up operational costs.

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Central KenyaCoffeeKirinyaga County Cooperative UnionAgriculture ministry