Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamucomba has appealed to the government to set up anti-coffee theft police unit to save farmers from losing the crop to criminals in Mt Kenya region.
At the same time, Wamuchomba revealed that farmers were struggling to sell coffee thanks to recent withdrawal of coffee millers licenses in some counties.
She regretted that the withdrawal of licenses had interfered with the trading of the commodity at the Nairobi auction which has for the last two months been dormant.
The MP noted that farmers had not traded their coffee since June and this had not only denied Kenya the much-needed foreign exchange but led to an influx of parchment coffee in the factories.
This, she said, has seen the cases of coffee theft increase in Kiambu, Embu, Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties among others.
“There is a need to establish a special police unit to safeguard the coffee at the factory and cooperatives because farmers are unable to pay police officers at the market rate of Sh1,700 per person to guard their coffee,” said Wamucomba.
She also said that whereas the withdrawal of licenses had dealt with cartels that controlled over 70 per cent of Kenya’s coffee value chain, it was done without measures being put in place to cushion the farmers.
This has forced farmers to wait longer for the Nairobi coffee exchange to reopen and to sell the produce.
“The changes instituted with regards to the trading of coffee are much appreciated but there is concern that if farmers do not sell their coffee in time they will be cash strapped and this will also affect the high yield season of between November to December,” said Wamucomba.
And to cushion farmers from the aftershocks, the legislator is now calling on the government to operationalise the Sh2.5 billion coffee advance cherry fund currently held by Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (KPCU) and which will be used for the establishment of a parchment off-take program by the government to rescue coffee already harvested.
“We need a review of the current buyers’ marketers and miller’s licenses to avoid conflicts in the sector. It is our hope that the government will salvage the coffee sector on behalf of the two million Kenyans or more farmers that depend on coffee for their livelihoods,” said Wamuchomba.
The MP said there is need to inform farmers on the planned coffee reforms and provide an input financing program.
She lauded the government for the introduction of the Direct Settlement System (DSS) saying it would protect farmers from brokers and unscrupulous traders since it will allow them to deal directly with the buyer.
Wamucomba however warned that delay in operationalizing the same could affect the farmers’ cash flow and access to soft loans to finance their farm inputs.
Notably, more than 700,000 farmers and another five million Kenyans are employed by the industry and continue to suffer low income due to a dysfunctional system.
The Kenya Kwanza administration has however embarked on a coffee sector reform journey and instituted measures such as a Sh4 billion subsidy scheme to finance the provision of affordable fertilizer and debt waivers to return the sector to a leading foreign exchange earner.