Coffee farmers have asked the Ruto Government not to turn back on the ongoing coffee reforms aimed at eliminating coffee cartels that have been fleecing farmers for decades.
The National Coffee Cooperative Union (NACCU) which is the umbrella body for the over 800,000 small-scale coffee farmers, asked Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, under whose coffee reforms docket falls, and Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi, not to relent in the ongoing coffee sector reforms in order to uplift farmers.
“We are pleading with the Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary not to be swayed by interested parties,” NACCU chairman Francis Ngone said on Friday.
“They should push ahead with the reforms so that we the farmers can benefit.”
The calls came in response to this week’s Coffee Stakeholders Consultative meeting hosted in conjunction with the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA).
The earlier forum that was held in Nairobi claimed the reforms had been rushed and should be re-considered.
But Mr Ngone dismissed the claims saying the reforms which started in 2016 had been consultative adding that they are in the interest of all small-scale coffee farmers in the country and their implementation will lead to the lifting of farmers' incomes.
Successive regimes, including the current Kenya Kwanza administration, have blamed cartels for running down the sector, which was once a leading foreign exchange earner.
The result has been low earnings that have seen thousands of farmers abandon the crop.
The Kenya Kwanza administration has embarked on a coffee sector reform journey, hoping that it can take on the challenges crippling the once vibrant industry.
Under the new reforms, 11 coffee Cooperative unions have been licensed to sell coffee directly at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) and overseas thereby eliminating the need for a middleman between the farmer and the buyer.
Under the new changes, the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) has also been entrenched as the regulator of the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) where the William Ruto administration expects that the regulator will oversee a transparent and efficient price discovery process that benefits farmers.
The entry of farmer-owned coffee brokerage companies on the NCE trading floor has been billed as a game changer by the Ruto government.
Beans from small Kenyan farms end up in speciality coffees from Berlin to San Francisco.
But low prices, rising temperatures, and erratic rainfall are pushing farmers to the brink of collapse.
More than 800,000 farmers and another five million Kenyans are employed by the industry and continue to suffer low incomes due to a dysfunctional system that appears to favour middlemen and other other “cartel” members.
President William Ruto moved the coffee reforms docket to the Deputy President's office.
It was previously under the Executive Office of the President.
“The President has instructed me to lead reforms in the tea, coffee, and milk subsectors. This is aimed at putting more money in the pockets of farmers by linking them directly to consumers. The cartels are ruthless, but we will stop at nothing,” said DP Rigathi Gachagua following the announcement.
Coffee was at some point a leading foreign exchange earner, accounting for 40 per cent of forex earnings, but production has dropped over the years.
The crop raked in Sh27 billion in 2022, a notable increase from Sh10 billion in 2020, but a negligible contribution to Kenya’s total exports of Sh873 billion last year.
Coffee production stood at 52,000 tonnes in 2022, according to data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).
Former President Uhuru Kenyatta in March 2021 issued an executive order on coffee sector reforms, which envisioned reforms across different areas, including access to credit for farmers and the tabling of the Coffee Bill in Parliament.
Among the new approaches to revive the industry was the reintroduction of the Coffee Board of Kenya.