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How New KPCU plans to turn around coffee sector

By KIMURI MWANGI | January 28th 2020 at 10:56:39 GMT +0300

President Uhuru Kenyatta recently appointed former Nyeri Agriculture CEC Henry Gichuhi Kinyua as the Chairman of the New KPCU Board.

Our writer KIMURI MWANGI had an interview with him on matters coffee and his new role.
How will the Coffee Cherry Revolving Fund be managed?
It is good to note that its management is guided by the regulations that were recently gazetted and currently they are going through the public participation phase. So, on management, the interest and all that I cannot talk much about them until the regulations are complete.
However, the spirit of the regulations as you heard from the President’s address and our Agriculture CS Peter Munya, is very clear that this fund must go directly to the farmer.
So, based on the final regulations as we receive them, we as the board will make sure that on managing it, that will happen most transparently and efficiently. We will see how we can significantly employ ICT and technology to make sure that we deliver the fun most efficiently and most transparently.
But the details on how we will turn the bolts and nuts will have to wait until the regulations go through public participation, the process gazetted then that time I can give you the details on exactly how we are going to do that.

How are you going to use technology to make New KPCU effective?
We were launched by the CS on 7th of January and so, for now, we are working on putting up systems and structures and then eventually put the people who will drive this institution forward.
But I can say we are looking at building an institution that is market-driven and farmer-centric and there is no other way to ensure that you have an updated and market-based institution other than technology.
We will respond to the needs of most markets.

How do you plan to involve farmers directly involved in the affairs of the New KPCU? Including building confidence with the organization?
Once we can demonstrate to the farmers that we are farmer-centric and have their interest at heart, and that is not just by words but action by very clear systems that are in place, the process of trust and confidence-building will begin.
So, we are very deliberate that farmers who will mill their coffee and market through New KPCU this first season will see such a tremendous change that it can be very easy for others to join.

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How do you see the future of giant coffee cooperative societies and the probability that future cooperatives will be of fewer people to manage quality and efficiency?
I don’t want to talk more about co-operatives but I can say that there have been so many models that have been tried. I still believe the co-operative model can and has been able to deliver returns to farmers. So ideally again is just ensuring that co-operatives are transparent and are serving farmers. And I know there are also many other efforts towards this not only within but from the national and county governments to ensure that co-operatives are transparent and that they are serving farmers.
As long as they continue discharging that mandate, there is a future in co-operatives despite their size. Smallholder farmers may not be able to attain the best quality inputs and reach the market on their own so there is a lot of value.
The co-operative model with its weaknesses is good. I am not sure people have seen another compelling alternative to a well-managed co-operative.

There is an emerging trend of farmers, small scale, wet milling their coffee at home then finding buyers locally or abroad. What are your thoughts on this?
We need to demystify the issue of coffee marketing and I think this is a good move.
The law allows them and if the law allows you to get the best market for your produce, then why not? If you look at all developed economies, there is a lot of value and vigour that comes from cottage industries.
One role of New KPCU will be to provide milling services to such. Because even if they do pulp, they will still require milling and at our level. We will be that miller to those who have found a direct market.
As long as they obtain a wet milling license from the County government and follow the law, we will mill for them. You don’t have to market through us because we have milled for you.
These fall under the small estate and they are well defined on their existence so we are ready for them.

What is the capacity of KPCU in terms of milling, warehousing, financial muscle and ability to market coffee to new markets?
In the next few weeks as a board, we will be able to give a comprehensive answer on that after reviewing the position of KPCU and its partners.

What sort of innovations around coffee, in range of growth, value addition and marketing would you like to encourage to increase farmers’ earnings?
Interestingly everything is out there I don’t think there is anything new. Whether it is getting new varieties to respond to climate change, we now have the Batian variety.
Whether it is using mulch, lime and fertilizer all are out there. It is only making sure that that is done consistently.
But this will only happen if the crop is paying.
If farmers are receiving good returns, farmers will be able to employ all those. On the side of milling and other services, we are going to employ new technology and after we settle down, we are going to explain this well to our farmers.

Do you plan to collaborate with County governments now that agriculture is devolved?
Being a State Corporation, New KPCU is not about competition. We are going to collaborate with everybody and any stakeholder in the industry.
From the County Governments to all other players in the private sector and other government bodies.
I would like people to look at New KPCU not as a competitor but as another partner that they can collaborate with so that we can see how we can solve the real issue facing our country which is declining coffee productivity.
Our coffee has reduced from where it was at 140,000 tonnes in the last ten years to about 40,000 tonnes. That is the big problem and as New KPCU we are coming in looking at who in this space can we work with to deliver that.

Coffee theft is likely to remain an issue going into the future. What sort of technology can be used to minimize this risk?
This is an interesting issue because coffee is very bulking. It is not something that can be put in the pocket so how it is stolen talks a lot about collusion and failure of local systems. Most farmer co-operatives don’t have strong stores for their coffee.
Most stores can easily be broken into and this is something that we want to discuss with co-operatives because we can provide warehouse services to them.
Once the coffee is dried, we can use central warehousing and use technology to even trace where it belongs to incase it is stolen. We can remove that temptation by ensuring that once the coffee is dried it is removed from the factories.
New KPCU can offer central warehousing services in different areas where the coffee will be under good security and even have it insured.
But largely this is a local issue and if the community decides their coffee will not be stolen it is possible due to its bulkiness. I have also seen in some areas collaboration between the county government, local community, and national government especially the interior officers like chiefs and the rest working magic to ensure that coffee theft is curbed.
We can have good lighting masts and CCTVs all over but if the community is not involved this is not a solution.

Do you feel your experience as an agriculture CEC will help you in your new role?
You know in life, everything you do prepares you for the next. No activity or action will not add up to who you will be either as a better person or whatever kind of person you want to turn out to be. I have a lot of experience in the sector right from my first job as an agrochemicals salesman training coffee farmers in Murang’ a in the late 90s up to now.
So, I can say all my experiences, my expertise, my networks have prepared me for this. And this will prepare me for other great things that are ahead.

KPCU CS Peter Munya President Uhuru Kenyatta
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