We will not relent on coffee reforms, State warns cartels

Cooperatives Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The government will not relent on coffee reforms in a bid to rein in cartels in the sector, Cooperatives Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui has vowed.

The CS told coffee farmers earlier this week that the government is aware that private profiteers "who have controlled the market and set whatever prices they wanted to pay for our coffee are not happy with these reforms."

"They will do all at their disposal to derail these reforms. Some of them will be approaching you in a bid to defeat government reforms," said Mr Chelugui.

"We urge you not to listen to them and support the government and your leaders in these initiatives which will set you free from exploitation and increase your coffee earnings."

The CS made the comments during the launch of the Embu Cooperative Mill in Embu County.

His comments came weeks after coffee farmers asked the government not to step up the ongoing coffee reforms aimed at eliminating coffee cartels that have been fleecing farmers for decades.

They also come on the back of recent remarks by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua expressing frustrations in his mission to dislodge the lucrative coffee industry from profiteers.

The National Coffee Cooperative Union (NACCU), which is the umbrella body for the over 800,000 small-scale coffee farmers, earlier asked Gachagua, under whose coffee reforms docket falls, and Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi not to relent in the ongoing coffee sector reforms 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 recently.

"They should push ahead with the reforms so that we the farmers can benefit."

His remarks were in response to a coffee stakeholders consultative meeting hosted in conjunction with the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA).

The earlier forum 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.

Mr Chelugui said 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, additional 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.

"More unions will receive licenses in due course," said Mr Chelugui, adding that the Coffee Bill, designed to reestablish the Coffee Board of Kenya and the Coffee Research Institute as independent farmer institutions, has gone through the second reading in the Senate.

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